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passion flower walter popp

Historical Romance Review: Passion Flower by Jennifer Horsman

book review historical romance
Passion Flower by Jennifer Horsman
Rating: one-half-stars
Published: 1983
Illustrator: Walter Popp
Imprint or Line: Zebra Historical Romance
Published by: Kensington
Genres: Historical Romance, Romance with Rape Element, Bodice Ripper, Colonial Era Romance, Forced Seduction
Pages: 473
Format: Paperback
Buy on: AmazonAbeBooks
Reviewed by: Blue Falcon


Historical Romance Review: Passion Flower by Jennifer Horsman

SPOILER ALERT ⚠

The Book

This review is of Passion Flower by Jennifer Horsman, a Zebra historical romance from 1983.

The Plot

Passion Flower begins with introductions to the heroine of the book, Catherine Mary “Jasmine” O’Neil. She is so nicknamed due to the fragrance her late mother wore, which comforted Jasmine after her mother’s death.

Jasmine lives in Jamaica with her grandfather, Franz, a physician. Later, she meets Captain Johnathon Mahn, an English ex-pat and the hero of the book. Johnathon is asked to root out arms smuggling in Jamaica, which is how he and Jasmine come to meet.

Jasmine and Franz accidentally find out about the illegal activity. Franz is killed, and Jasmine is taken captive. She is told she can gain her freedom if she spies on Johnathon.

He finds her spying on him, and they become lovers. Both later escape Jamaica and set sail for Johnathon’s plantation in Virginia.

In Virginia, Jasmine gets a job as a physician’s assistant. What she doesn’t know is that the job–and her home and many other things–are due to the largesse of Johnathon.

Jasmine also attracts many male admirers. These admirers arouse Johnathon’s jealousy, which later leads him to rape Jasmine. Jasmine and Johnathon later marry once it is known that she is pregnant.

One of the soldiers from Jamaica finds Jasmine in Virginia and kidnaps her. In the end, she is saved, and Jasmine and Johnathon then have their Happily Ever After.

The Upside

The most interesting character in the book, in my view, is Bear Dog, a half-bear, half-wolf who befriends Jasmine on the ship voyage to Virginia and saves her when she is kidnapped.

The Downside

When the most interesting character in the book has four legs and fur, that is a stinging indictment of the human characters. Neither Jasmine nor Johnathon are particularly deep characters, although Jasmine is more so than Johnathon.

The storylines are flat and lifeless. The “Jamaican Gun Smuggling” trope is so lame Ms. Horsman may as well not have included it.

Then there is Johnathon’s rape of Jasmine. No romance hero ever redeems himself with me if he sexually assaults a woman.

There is very little to no romance between Jasmine and Johnathon.

Sex

There are a handful of sex scenes, none of which are graphic or interesting.

Violence

In addition to Franz’s killing, there are scenes of attempted rape, rape, assault and battery, shootings, and killings. None of the violence is graphic.

Bottom Line on Passion Flower

Jennifer Horsman has enough items on the menu of Passion Flower to make a good meal. Instead, she produces a book that’s raw, like sushi.

Rating Report Card
Plot
1.5
Characters
1.5
Writing
2
Chemistry
1
Fun Factor
1
Cover
4
Overall: 1.8

Synopsis

CATEGORIES: , , , , , , , , ,

***

GARDEN OF LOVE

Gorgeous Jasmine O’Neil never meant to fall in love with the insolent handsome captain. His voice was commanding, his reputation was roguish, and his manner was much too imperious. But despite all his drawbacks, the innocent beauty couldn’t resist the spell of masculine charm and tingling pleasure he cast upon her. Suddenly, she knew she was in love – and she was certain that his declarations of desire were undying promises of matrimony.

PARADISE OF ECSTACY

Captain Johnathon Mahn couldn’t deny himself the untouched woman’s beckoning curves. He tangled himself in their sweet tormenting rapture. Nothing could ever make him give up this mistress – but nothing would ever compel him to wed! He was a man of independence who took what he wanted…and he craved his fragrant Jasmine, his velvety blossom, his delicate PASSION FLOWER.

Passion Flower by Jennifer Horseman
forbidden ecstasy popp

Historical Romance Review: Forbidden Ecstasy by Janelle Taylor

book review historical romance
Forbidden Ecstasy by Janelle Taylor
Rating: four-stars
Published: 1982
Illustrator: Unknown
Imprint or Line: Zebra Historical Romance
Published by: Kensington
Genres: Historical Romance, Bodice Ripper, Colonial Era Romance, Native American Romance, Romance with Rape Element, Forced Seduction
Pages: 494
Format: eBook, Paperback
Buy on: AmazonAbeBooksOpen Library (BORROW FOR FREE)
Reviewed by: Blue Falcon


Historical Romance Review: Forbidden Ecstasy by Janelle Taylor

SPOILER ALERT ⚠

The Book

This review is of Forbidden Ecstasy (“Ecstasy/Gray Eagle Series #3″) by Janelle Taylor.

The Plot

The heroine of the first four books, Alisha Williams, and her husband, Gray Eagle, the “hero,” have been officially married for four days. They have only spent two days together, however, as Gray Eagle has left Alisha to obtain supplies.

When Gray Eagle doesn’t return to her, Alisha wonders what happened.

What she doesn’t know is that Gray Eagle was shot and left for dead by her friend, Powchutu.

There are two reasons he did this:

  1. To punish Gray Eagle for his abhorrent behavior toward Alisha
  2. Powchutu is in love/lust with Alisha.

Alisha believes Powchutu’s lies about why Gray Eagle hasn’t returned, and they set off together.

On their trip, which culminates in St. Louis, Alisha and Powchutu will meet, or meet again, four people who will play a major role in their lives. They are:

  1. Joe Kenny, a white trapper
  2. Jamie O’Hara, a lodgings owne
  3. Mary O’Hara, a mute young woman and niece to Jamie O’Hara
  4. And, sadly, Jeffery Gordon, the evil ex-Army lieutenant who somehow survived the attack on Fort Pierre.

As time goes on, Jeffery blackmails Alisha, threatening great harm to her and Powchutu if she doesn’t marry him. Alisha hedges and Powchutu is killed by Jeffery’s henchmen.

Powchutu’s death pushes Alisha into marrying Jeffery, who makes her life hell on many levels. What neither knows is that Gray Eagle survived his shooting by Powchutu.

Gray Eagle comes to kill Jeffery, finds Alisha, and takes her back to the Oglala camp, subjecting her to more emotional, mental, physical, and sexual abuse along the way.

Despite all of this, by the end of the book, Gray Eagle and Alisha reconcile, as they discover that the bad things they thought about the other were not true. They decide to continue the ruse that Alisha is Shalee, make up with each other, and are happy.

For now, anyway…

The Upside

When Janelle Taylor is at her best, she ranks with Rosanne Bittner as one of my go-to authors. Mrs. Taylor’s style is lyrical and evocative. she brings her readers and me into the lives of her characters.

I felt as though I were watching the lives of the characters instead of just reading about them. Only the best authors can make me feel like that.

The Downside

While I understand Gray Eagle’s feelings about what he believes is Alisha’s betrayal of him, that doesn’t defend/excuse/justify the abuse he inflicts on her. “This kind of derails the Gray Eagle Redemption Tour” Mrs. Taylor was on in Defiant Ecstasy.

Much of the rancor between Alisha and Gray Eagle was due to a lack of trust and communication, which they haven’t had since the beginning.

Sex

Very little and not terribly exciting. Mrs. Taylor does have a few books which have some spice to them. The first three books in the “Ecstasy/Gray Eagle” series are not among them.

Violence

There is, however, a lot of violence. Assault, battery, attempted murder, murder, and rape. None of the violence is super graphic, but it’s there.

Bottom Line on Forbidden Ecstasy

The fact that Gray Eagle is still an unrepentant bastard and the “Stockholm Syndrome romance” between Gray Eagle and Alisha keeps me from giving Janelle Taylor’s Forbidden Ecstasy a five-star rating. 

4 Stars

Rating Report Card
Plot
4
Characters
4.5
Writing
4.5
Chemistry
3.5
Fun Factor
3.5
Cover
4.5
Overall: 4.1

Synopsis

ALISHA was silk and satin, honey and fire. Never before did the possession of a man fill Alisha with such excitement as when she held her handsome Indian lover in her arms. That she was a white woman living in the red man’s world did not matter. They had promised each other their hearts forever – nothing could keep them apart.

GRAY EAGLE was fierce and gentle, powerful and possessive. He would never forsake his bride of two moons; he would never let her go. But when Alisha awoke to dawn’s first light her bronze-skinned warrior was gone. Her lips were tender from his fiery kisses; her body throbbed from his fierce passion – and still she longed for him. Lost between two worlds, she was desperate and alone. Betrayed by her savage lover, she hungered for their forbidden love!

Forbidden Ecstasy by Janelle Taylor
CATEGORIES: , , , , , , , , ,

***

pasion's slave

Historical Romance Review: Passion’s Slave by Kay McMahon

historical romance review
Passion's Slave by Kay McMahon
Rating: one-star
Published: 1983
Illustrator: Walter Popp
Book Series: Zebra Historical Romance
Published by: Kensington
Genres: Historical Romance, Bodice Ripper
Pages: 525
Format: Paperback
Buy on: AmazonThriftBooksAbeBooks
Reviewed by: Blue Falcon


Historical Romance Review: Passion’s Slave by Kay McMahon

SPOILER ALERT ⚠

The Book

I really want to like Kay McMahon’s books, mainly because I like her female characters. However, there is one thing I cannot and will not accept about books–regardless of when they are written. That is when the “hero” of the book rapes the heroine. Such is the case with Passion’s Slave by Kay McMahon.

The Plot

Part 1

Alanna Bainbridge is a young Englishwoman who is brought to America by her father and stepmother, ostensibly to have a better life. What she doesn’t know, and it’s not explained why is that she is being sold into indentured servitude.

She is bought by Beau Remington, the owner of the Raven Oaks plantation in Virginia. Upon hearing that she is an indentured servant, Alanna tries twice to escape. She is captured, beaten, and later raped twice by Beau. This only fuels her hatred of him, but yet, as only typical 1980s romance novels can–this book was published in December 1983-she falls in love with him! They do have consensual sexual encounters later on.

Also in the picture is Beau’s friend, Radford Chamberlain, who falls in love with Alanna and eventually proposes to her, much to Beau’s chagrin. There is a major fly in the ointment, and that is Radford’s “fiancee”, Melissa Bensen. (Radford and Melissa aren’t actually engaged.)

Part 2

She earlier wanted to marry Beau, but he didn’t want her, so she set her sights on Radford.) Melissa, upon meeting Alanna, becomes so jealous that she eventually arranges for Alanna to be kidnapped and sold to a New Orleans brothel.

While the kidnapping goes through, the pirate Melissa pays off, Dillon Gallagher, doesn’t take Alanna to the brothel because she reminds him of his late sister, who was raped and later committed suicide.

When Beau and Radford try to rescue Alanna, tragedy strikes. Radford is killed in the process. He leaves Alanna his estate, Briarwood Manor, which is falling into disrepair due to Radford’s financial difficulties.

Later, Beau sells Raven Oaks to his real father, Joshua Cain-who he thought was only his overseer on his plantation-to help Alanna, with her plantation. This is supposed to be a sign that Beau actually loves Alanna.

The Upside and the Downside

For much of the book, Ms. McMahon tries to rehabilitate Beau by claiming that his actions are partially the result of his mother not loving him. She also has him show contrition for his actions. But I don’t buy any of that. Most human beings, in my experience, feel bad after they do something wrong, not before or during.

It’s also bothersome to me that no one around Beau holds him in any way accountable for what he did to Alanna. Yes, the book is set in the 1700s and was written in 1983, but the fact that everyone around, including Alanna, is or becomes okay with Beau raping her is sickening to me.

Sex

There are a few sex scenes, a few pages long but not overly graphic.

Violence

Violence: in addition to Alanna being raped, she is beaten with a whip after she tries to run away. Later, she is assaulted to get her on board the pirate ship. Once there, two of Gallagher’s crew try to rape her; they don’t succeed. Gallagher then beats the pirates and throws them off his ship, literally. Then, as mentioned earlier, Radford is shot and killed when he and Beau confront Gallagher about Alanna’s kidnapping.

Bottom Line on Passion’s Slave

In the interest of fairness, there were many books of the 1970s and 80s that featured the “hero” of the book raping the heroine; it was considered a pretty standard publishing practice in the romance novel industry during that time.

However, the fact that it was an accepted practice doesn’t make it okay to me. I cannot give a positive review to any book that features this fact. That is a stain that will never come clean in my eyes, and that makes Passion’s Slave by Kay McMahon one I cannot say good things about.

1.12 Stars

Rating Report Card
Plot
1
Characters
1
Writing
2.5
Chemistry
0
Fun Factor
3
Cover
0.5
Overall: 1.3

Synopsis

THE HAWK was the image that came to Alanna’s mind whenever she saw the sleek powerful master of Raven Oaks plantation. Beau Remington was the kind of man who would stalk his prey until he got what he wanted. He wanted lovely Alanna. Just one look at her full firm curves and long black hair sent flashes of fire through his loins. And though he knew she was no ordinary woman it didn’t matter. He had purchased her papers and belonged to him — body and soul…

THE DOVE was the image that came to Beau’s mind whenever he saw soft alluring Alanna. However, beneath her innocence lay a defiant and determined young beauty who would never surrender her freedom and whose only desire was to escape. But once she tasted Beau’s fierce demanding kisses and melted into his embrace, Alanna learned that not only was she his servant — she was forever PASSION’S SLAVE…

PASSIONS SLAVE by KAY MCMAHON
Jennifer Wilde

Historical Romance Review: Love’s Fiery Jewel by Elaine Barbieri

book review historical romance
Love's Fiery Jewel by Elaine Barbieri
Rating: one-star
Published: 1982
Illustrator: TBD
Imprint or Line: Zebra Historical Romance
Published by: Kensington
Genres: Historical Romance, Bodice Ripper
Pages: 510
Format: eBook, Paperback
Buy on: AmazonAbeBooks
Reviewed by: Blue Falcon


Historical Romance Review: Love’s Fiery Jewel by Elaine Barbieri

MILD SPOILERS 😉

The Book

This review is of Love’s Fiery Jewel by Elaine Barbieri, a bodice ripper romance that Zebra books published in 1982.

The Plot

In 1775, an acting troupe called The American Company is boarding a ship, The Sally. The ship is captained by notorious privateer Damien Staith, the “hero” of Love’s Fiery Jewel, and is to sail from the Colonies to Jamaica.

Among those on the ship are actress Marian Greer and her daughter, Amethyst, the heroine. When the book begins, Amethyst is 9 and Damien is 26.

During the course of the book–which spans 510 pages and seven years–(keep in mind, she is 16 and Damien is 33), the hero does the following things to Amethyst:

Emotionally abuses her by belittling her, calling her derogatory names, and disregarding any of her wishes. Damien also threatens to kill two of her other suitors. He uses her love for her caretaker in Jamaica to blackmail her.

Mentally abuses her by letting her believe that he practices obeah, a form of black magic.

Physically abuses her by slapping Amethyst several times and shaking her so hard that she is bruised.

Sexually abuses her. Although Damien doesn’t rape Amethyst–big whoop–he does coerce her sexually, using his skills at sex and her desire against her. This is clearly a forced seduction trope, at best.

And yet, despite all of that, Amethyst falls in love with Damien! When she is finally free of him, she chooses to go back to him!

The Upside

Like most of Ms. Barbieri’s books, Love’s Fiery Jewel is well-written and emotionally deep.

The Downside

It’s rather appropriate that Damien Straith shares the name of the character from The Omen. The behavior of Damien in Love’s Fiery Jewel is just as horrifying as the character of the same name in the “Omen” movie franchise.

Amethyst, however, is not entirely blameless. She is very weak in regard to his actions. She constantly needs a man to take care of her–a weakness shared by many of the heroines in Ms. Barbieri’s books.

Sex

The sex scenes are mostly focused on the feeling of the act rather than the mechanics. They mostly focus on what the man doing to the woman.

Violence

In addition to the violence listed above, Damien beats up one of Amethyst’s suitors toward the end. Another man is seriously injured in an accident that Amethyst blames on Damien’s obeah.

At one point late in the book, Amethyst draws a gun on Damien and makes him leave her. If she had shot and killed the bastard, it would have made Love’s Fiery Jewel so much better!

Bottom Line on Love’s Fiery Jewel

Do you like books with heroines with zero pride or self-esteem? Women willing to allow themselves to be emotionally, mentally, physically, and sexually abused by the “men” who claim to love them? And then fall in love with said cretins?

If you do, chances are you’ll love Elaine Barbieri’s Love’s Fiery Jewel. For the rest of us, not so much.

Right after I finish posting this review, this “romance novel” is going into my trash bin.

.75 Stars (cover points don’t count)

Rating Report Card
Plot
0
Characters
0.5
Writing
3.5
Chemistry
0.5
Fun Factor
0
Cover
3.5
Overall: 1.3

Synopsis

THE SPARKLE OF PASSION glowed in Amethyst’s big violet eyes. She was on the verge of womanhood, ripe for love, and no one knew it better than Captain Damien Straith. He was intoxicated by her rare beauty. Her sensual innocence and fiery temper made her more alluring than any woman he had ever known. With just one fierce, long, lingering kiss he could possess her forever. Somehow he’d have to make her his own…

THE GLITTER OF DESIRE shone like a diamond in Damien’s piercing gray eyes. And each time Amethyst met his gaze her pulse quickened and she ached with desire. She wanted the handsome captain to bring her to the heights of rapturous pleasure, but what if she gave him her love and he cast her aside? Delirious with longing, yet afraid to give her heart, she hated the power he had over her body — and vowed never to give him her love! 

Love’s Fiery Jewel by Elaine Barbieri
Dangerous Obsession natasha peters

Historical Romance Review: Dangerous Obsession by Natasha Peters

Dangerous Obsession by Natasha Peters
Rating: five-stars
Published: 1978
Illustrator: Don Stivers
Book Series: Culhane Duo #2
Published by: Ace
Genres: Historical Romance, Bodice Ripper
Pages: 630
Format: Paperback
Buy on: AmazonAbeBooks
Reviewed by: Introvert Reader


Historical Romance Review: Dangerous Obsession by Natasha Peters

SPOILER ALERT ⚠

The Book

Dangerous Obsession is the sequel to Natasha Peters‘ first epic bodice ripper romance, Savage Surrender.

However, don’t feel you need to read one to be comfortable reading the other. The relationship between the two books is not revealed until midway through this 630-page epic.

The Set-Up

Like so many great bodice rippers of epic scope, Dangerous Obsession takes us through various years and continents. It spans twelve years in the life of Rhawnie, the blonde daughter of a gypsy and a Russian noblewoman.

American Seth Garrett has business to deal with in Russia. There, he will meet Rhawnie, and there begins a rocky love story that will span continents and years.

The Plot and the Characters

The Heroine, Rhawnie

Rhawnie is not a simpering, treacly-sweet girl or spunky, foot-stamping heroine. She lies for the hell of it: to strangers, to the people she loves, to herself! Rhawnie even lies on her (near) deathbed!

She is an unrepentant thief. Early on Rhawnie is caught stealing from an innkeeper and Seth, the hero, is forced to remove the purloined items hidden under her petticoats: a bottle of vodka, a wheel of cheese, a large loaf of bread, several sausages, a large knife, and a whole chicken!

When caught red-handed, she denies ever touching the stuff and accuses the innkeeper of framing her. In this, Rhawnie reminds me a bit of my daughter, [Note: she was 7 when I originally wrote this review] who lives by the motto: “Admit nothing, deny everything and make counter-accusations.”

Rhawnie is not a mere mortal. She is beautiful, a professional thief, a fortune-teller, a gambler, and card cheat, and a baroness.

Men duel and die over her. She is mistress to a king, a threat to a nobleman’s power, a world-famous singer, a saloon owner, the savior of an orphan, and a wronged woman.

Last and most of all, Rhawnie is the love object of two brothers, who are as opposite as day and night.

“You will travel far to find love, only to find that love has traveled with you.”

The Hero, Seth

The male protagonist, Seth Garrett, is a piece of work, and it took me a long time to warm up to him.

He’s no Sean Culhane or Duke Domenico, but he’s both cruel and vicious and unfeeling and cold. He wins the right to Rhawnie’s virginity in a card game but passes on the offer, as she is only 14 or 15. Her lecherous, older uncle then, in angry retaliation, beats and kicks Rhawnie while Seth just sort of stands there.

Then when her uncle rapes her a few pages later, Seth is too late to save her–even though he’s in the next room and can hear what’s going on!

He destroys any chance Rhawnie has for legitimacy in Paris society by publicly claiming her as his mistress.

And the evil Seth inflicts upon Rhawnie in Chapter 10 simply calls for a karmic justice that never occurs.

But…he does properly declare himself at the end (if that redemption/groveling arc matters to you). He gives himself completely to Rhawnie.

Seth is not perfect, but neither is Rhawnie, so together, they are perfect.

The Good and the Bad

Dangerous Obsession is written in the first person, but as Rhawnie is a great narrator, with so many wonderful quips and observations, this did not detract. There was an appropriate blend of action and introspection, but no excessive self-absorption of feeling too often found in modern romances.

However, the action does get a bit too much at the end. The book is a hefty door-stopper and Natasha Peters could have cut it 75 to 50 pages shorter.

Rhawnie and Seth embark on a search for Seth’s missing sister that takes them through the American west.

They get on TWO different boats that explode and sink into the river. Seth gets injured, and Rhawnie nurses him back to life. Rhawnie gets cholera, so Seth has to nurse her back to life (on a regiment of camphor, cannabis, and caviar, no less)!

They travel for months through the mountains and have many misadventures; she survives a great fire, gets kidnapped, gets addicted to laudanum, gets rescued…

And before you know it–whew! It’s over.

Final Analysis of Dangerous Obsession

Natasha Peters’ Dangerous Obsession was so close to perfect. It’s such a shame that, like so many bodice rippers, in the end, it falters under its own hefty weight.

Nevertheless, I’m rounding my initial 4.5-star rating up to a 5 solely on the basis of the heroine, Rhawnie, who is all kinds of awesome.

5 Stars

Rating Report Card
Plot
4.5
Characters
5
Writing
5
Chemistry
4.5
Fun Factor
4.5
Cover
4
Overall: 4.6

Synopsis:

She was daring and defiant; tender and wanton. She was child; she was woman. she was Rhawnie.

From a starving gypsy in Russia to an exotic demi-mondaine in Paris to a countess in Bavaria to a sensation in New York from a survivor in the western wilderness to a card shark in San Francisco — such were the heights and depths of existence for Rhawnie.

Her wit, her cunning, her beauty, the sensuous delights she performs to well protect her even as they cause her agony and shame. For deep in her soul is a love for a man, a man who has brought her only degradation and heartbreak.

Wherever she goes, whatever she does, Rhawnie cannot escape Seth Garrett. The constant ache for his arms, the ever present need for the fires of passion he alone can ignite, and his relentless pursuit of her have made her his prisoner. Across continents fleeing danger and death, Rhawnie runs…from this man…from herself…until she knows that with a love so powerful, a love so shameless, she can do nothing but surrender!

DANGEROUS OBSESSION by NATASHA PETERS
passions paradise

Historical Romance Review: Passion’s Paradise by Sonya T. Pelton

historical romance review
Passion's Paradise by Sonya T. Pelton
Rating: three-stars
Published: 1981
Illustrator: Unknown
Imprint or Line: Zebra Historical Romance
Published by: Kensington
Genres: Bodice Ripper, Historical Romance
Pages: 544
Format: Paperback
Buy on: Amazon
Reviewed by: Introvert Reader


Historical Romance Review: Passion’s Paradise by Sonya T. Pelton

SPOILER ALERT ⚠

The Book

Passion’s Paradise by Sonya T. Pelton is a wonderfully terrible book published by Zebra in its early years. The cover warns you; it’s dark and dreary, done in deep blues and white, with the wrong hair color for the hero and a ship about to sink in the ocean that shouts: “Disaster looms ahead!”

I got this book in one of those e-bay lots, it was a freebie that the seller was perhaps too embarrassed to mention and only too glad to get rid of, with no back cover (no worries, I printed out the book blurb and taped it to the back) and garnished with red stamps from Arlene’s Book House & Paperback Exchange in Sweetwater, Texas. Now it lay in my Yankee hands, ready to thrill me with its awfulness.

Lying together upon the crest, their two profiles met, silhouetted as one against the clouds’ pink lattice. Here the sun shone softly, and the thrushes and cardinals and mockingbirds cooed love songs sang of twilight nigh, and the nascent magnolia flowers bloomed fragrantly…

PASSION’S PARADISE

The Plot of Passion’s Paradise

Captain Ty, or Tyrone, the supposed hero of Passion’s Paradise is a pirate, a slaver, a whoremonger, a politician–but I repeat myself.

Tyrone captures the ship that bears Angel Sherwood and her family from England to America. His Pa told him there was a special package on board and Ty was to take it. Ty and Pa had an agreement that Ty would marry when Pa found a woman worthy of his son and–who the hell cares, is the plot important? Not to the author, so you shouldn’t care either! Random events occur in the book, story-lines are dropped and nothing makes sense.

There is a mysterious murder… Is Ty the killer? Who knows? Who cares?

There is another murder. Is Ty the killer? Well, this time yes, but again, who cares?

Angel runs away from Tyrone about four times in a row but keeps getting caught. The final time she flees, she leaves her severely mentally-unbalanced mother behind and promises to retrieve her. Of course, the only person Angel can trust to care for Mama is Tyrone’s evil ex-mistress. Mama goes missing. A year passes by, and Angel is concerned, but she’s had so much on her mind that she hasn’t had time to search.

You see Ty’s penis keeps taunting her in those tight pants he wears and a girl can’t think straight with that anteater staring at her.

Stupid Big Misunderstandings & Clichés Abound

This book is filled with stupid “big misunderstandings” and really random, unnecessary secrets. For 200 pages the big mystery of the book is Angel’s first name. There’s no reason for her to hide it. I think it’s just so the author could have Tyrone call the heroine “My mysterious Angel” without him knowing that was really her name. Lame.

Ty’s last name is a secret. Who is Ty’s father? Is Tyrone married? What is the secret of Cresthaven plantation? Where did Angel’s hymen go if she really was a virgin? (It blew up in the fire. Really, it did.)

Don’t expect any PC, this book is raw. A Chinese prostitute does her best at a Mickey Rooney Breakfast at Tiffany’s impression. Ty has slaves and whips them bloody. He takes what he wants from Angel (her love pudding) and doesn’t ask permission.

But oh, he’s a misunderstood devil. There’s depth to Capt. Ty, and a heart that yearns for love. You see he had a rough childhood because his mother was a slut, or something like that.

Final Analysis of Passion’s Paradise

Passion’s Paradise is a cliché-ridden calamity. Even so, it was oddly entertaining, like a terrible movie you watch just to shout inanities at the screen. Plus, I can’t hate a book with such craptastic dialogue as:

Ellen (a prostitute): “You know I used to enjoy all kinds of men before Captain Ty came along. That tawny-haired devil made me forget them all, with his lean body and bulging crotch! Shees! I’ve bedded down with more men than you could ever hope to meet in your lifetime.”

Angel: “But not with Captain Ty?”

Ellen: “Bitch. Take your clothes off!”

Apparently, this book was a multi-million seller putting Zebra on the map. And it didn’t even have a pretty cover!

What a mess. 3 itty-bitty stars for being so gloriously, wonderfully entertaining.

3 Stars


Synopsis:

As the beautiful, fair-haired Angel Sherwood sailed from England to Louisiana, she sensed that her destiny flowed with the rough waves of the ocean. Frightened by the harsh sea, Angel prayed that perhaps, just perhaps, she would find happiness and romance in her new home.

But Angel’s fate changed course when she was kidnapped by the cruel, yet captivating pirate, Captain Ty. And even though her future was suddenly in the balance, Angel was strangely warmed by his manly touch. Her strong captor stirred in her a delcious pleasure, a burning fire that made her whole body tingle with precious thrills.

Captain Ty’s black heart was softened, too by her golden presence; she was an untouched treasure, full of charm, wit and innocense — a jewel that he feverishly desired. But rather than taint his savage and foreboding name, he kept his feelings hidden. First he had to be sure that her heart belonged to him–and then he would send her to PASSION’S PARADISE! 

PASSION’S PARADISE by SONYA T. PELTON
shanna

Historical Romance Review: Shanna by Kathleen E. Woodiwiss

historical romance review
Shanna by Kathleen E. Woodiwiss
Rating: three-half-stars
Published: 1977
Illustrator: H. Tom Hall
Published by: Avon
Genres: Historical Romance, Bodice Ripper, Colonial Era Romance, Georgian Era Romance
Pages: 666
Format: Audiobook, eBook, Paperback
Buy on: AmazonAbeBooksOpen Library (BORROW FOR FREE)
Reviewed by: Introvert Reader


Historical Romance Review: Shanna by Kathleen E. Woodiwiss

SPOILER ALERT ⚠

The Book

I’ve long had a tenuous relationship with Kathleen E. Woodiwiss’ romances. Shanna is the fourth of her books I’ve attempted to read, but it’s the only one I’ve completed. That’s a net positive in this bodice-ripper-lite‘s column.

Now, did I love it? Love is a strong word. I’d say, overall, it was enjoyable, if a bit long.

The Characters and Setup

Shanna Trahern is the spoiled only child of a wealthy Caribbean planter and widower, “Squire” Orlan Trahern. He’s part of the upstart merchant class and tres riche.

Fortune hunters and noblemen fallen upon hard times seek her hand, but Shanna will have none of them! Why can’t a man love her for who she is, dammit: a haughty, ill-tempered, busty, aqua-eyed blonde with a flawless complexion?

Her doting father has given his beautiful and independent daughter one year in England to choose an appropriate man to marry. Otherwise, he will arrange a marriage for her. Squire Trahern wants grandbabies, dammit! Besides, his daughter could use a husband to tame her wild ways.

Determined to be ruled by no man, Shanna colludes with her servant Pitney to arrange a quickie marriage to some black-sheep gentleman doomed to the hangman’s noose. That way, she’ll have official records she was legally wed. Then she’d return home, a widow in mourning, determined never to remarry.

The man she “chooses” is a bearded wretch convicted of killing a barmaid. Despite his thin, unkempt appearance, the hero has a charm in his hazel-gold eyes.

He’s our hero Ruark Beauchamp. Ruark gave me total Hugh Jackman vibes for some reason, so I was on board.

hugh-jackman

The Plot

Part One

Shanna promises to make the man’s last days pleasant by moving him to nicer quarters and keeping his belly fed. Instead, the prisoner arrogantly demands the consummation of his marital rights because Shanna is really hot.

She concedes to this, but any dingbat with two brain cells should know she’s full of it. But alas, our hero is besotted from the get-go over Shanna. His brains are in his balls. Ruark’s sole aim in this book is either getting into Shanna’s bed or obtaining vengeance in the form of getting Shanna into his bed!

Ruark is cleaned up, and wouldn’t ya know it? With some food in his stomach, a haircut, a shave, and a wash, Ruark is really hot.

Shanna’s southern girly parts tingle. Ruark eyes Shanna’s northern girly parts making promises of a pleasurable time to come.

The ceremony is performed. Into the carriage and on their way are the newlyweds. But Ruark can’t take it anymore, his lust for her bust overwhelms him, and he takes her. For a couple of humps, he is allowed to experience paradise. Shanna is confused by the fluttering sensations she’s experiencing.

Then the coach stops, and Ruark realizes Shanna had no intention of upholding her side of the bargain. He is taken away, but not without a bitter fight, before presumably being executed.

Shanna spares Ruark not another thought (okay, maybe one or two) and returns home to her father’s island of Los Camellos.

SHANNA PINK REISSUE
Shanna, Re-issue

Part Two

However…

Shanna’s other servant involved in her scheme decides to line his pockets in an even schemier scheme. He substitutes a dead man’s body for Ruark’s and takes him as a slave for Shanna’s father, of course. And wouldn’t ya know it? As Shanna sails home, Ruark is on that same ship.

Soon, to her great dismay, Shanna becomes aware of the new servant’s presence, and so does her father. Ruark never reveals he is Shanna’s legitimate husband (which would have made more sense since Ruark was so eager to get under Shanna’s petticoats).

As the new slave on the job, Ruark impresses the bossman with his engineering skills and–ahem–masterful knowledge of plantations. (It turns out Ruark’s family are wealthy colonial planters related to English nobility. What the hell was Ruark thinking, not contacting them or telling his father-in-law who he was?)

Trahern is so impressed that he gives Ruark special duties with special benefits. The day comes when the slave is dining at the table with the master and his wife—the slave’s wife, that is, not the master’s.

Apparently, Ruark is deep into some heavy roleplay because this slave thing turns him on. When Shanna sees him while riding her horse, he taunts her, and she hits him with her crop.

Instead of reacting violently, as these heroes in ‘rippers would, Ruark only smiles and vows to tame her to his will…

Funny enough, Shanna is viewed as having always gotten her way and in need of the right proper taming. She is a real itchbay, never satisfied with anything.

Everything displeased her, and even the flawlessness of her own beauty, regally gowned in rich ivory satin and costly lace, did not change her mood of discontent.

Ruark cares not. Nothing matters, not freedom, not clearing his name for a crime he didn’t commit, and not returning home. He must have his Shanna!

The give-and-take, push-and-pull between Shanna and Ruark is highly exciting until it reaches its apex. Ruark finally gets his honeymoon!

read shanna for free
Map of Los Camellos

Part Three

It seems that Ruark has found his Paradise on Earth. That is until a big misunderstanding sends Shanna into a jealous rage.

Shanna demands he daddy sell Ruark off to pirates… Oh, hell, that’s where this book takes a nosedive.

Let’s just “yada, yada, yada” this okay?

  • Yada… Nasty stinky pirates…
  • Yada… Ruark reveals the truth about his identity, and the true identity of other people comes to light.
  • Yada… And an evil villain named Gaylord gets his in the end.

Shanna realizes she loves Ruark and promises to stop being such a Seaward.

Shanna gives birth to twins, and her papa is happy as can be.

“In your madness you said you loved me,” she murmured shyly.

His humor fled, and the smile left her lips as she continued, “You said it before, too. When the storm struck, I asked you to love me, and you said you did.” Her voice was the barest of whispers.

Ruark’s gaze turned away from her, and he rubbed the bandage on his leg before he spoke. “Strange that madness should speak the truth, but truth it is.”

My Opinion

The Writing

Woodiwiss and many romance writers of her age (ex. Jennifer Wilde, Rebecca Brandewyne, and Bertrice Small) wrote as if they got paid by the word, like their pulp predecessors.

If Shanna had ended at the 450-page mark–or 325 pages a la Johanna Lindsey–it would have been glorious, a book I’d track down every edition of. I could have easily overlooked the flaws in favor of the positive aspects.

But it keeps going and going—so many fillers. I read a thousand romances from age 12 to 15 of all lengths and could zip through a 1,000-page book per week. Today at 44, I do not have that patience. I have ADHD. I’ve said this before in a review of another book: “The paragraphs are too damn long!”

I’m no enemy of adverbs and adjectives. The world would be a dark place without modifiers. It’s that Woodiwiss didn’t believe in using one or two or three when ten or twelve would suit her better! There are innumerable adverbs, adjectives, adverbs, and dependent clauses.

Let us not forget the effusive purple prose, the poem at the beginning, and the seriousness with which she takes herself. It appeared that Woodiwiss employed every grammatical trick at her disposal.

read shanna for free
Shanna, Re-issue

The Characters

Shanna

Shanna is your typical beautiful, cossetted, foot-stamping, won’t-listen-to-reason heroine with eyes that flash in anger, the kind that was so prevalent in old-school romances. Usually, I can’t stand this type because she’s written as “too stupid to live” (which is insulting to women who lived and endured hard times in the past).

I shouldn’t have liked Shanna, the character. For some reason, I did. She was caustic, yet she had a will. She contrived, and she plotted. Shanna tried to control her destiny instead of letting others do it for her.

Author Laura Kinsale wrote in her essay “The Androgynous Reader” about Shanna:

“[A] sillier and more wrongheaded heroine than Shanna would be difficult to imagine… Feminists need not tremble for the reader–she does not identify with, admire, or internalize the characteristics of either a stupidly submissive or an irksomely independent heroine. The reader thinks about what she would have done in the heroine’s place.”

LAURA KINSALE, “The Androgynous Reader” from Dangerous Men and Adventurous Women, edited by Jayne Ann Krentz

Shanna would qualify as the irksomely independent type. I typically don’t enjoy them, but when contrasting Shanna’s attitude with Ruark’s easy-going nature, it made for a sizzling combination.

So, apologies to Kinsale, but this reader did “identify with, admire, or internalize” some of Shanna’s characteristics. I’m an outlier, as ever.

Ruark

Ruark was an enigma. He was charming, handsome, and kind. Ruark was a dreamy hero, but I couldn’t grasp why he was so obsessed with Shanna. He should have been more concerned about his own hide.

First, he’s on death row, about to hang for a murder he did not commit. Then he’s sent overseas in chains to be a plantation slave.

Does he dream about getting free and plotting revenge against those who wronged him? Not really. From the moment he sees her in prison, his primary focus is having Shanna and putting his pee-pee into her wee-wee.

read shanna for free
Shanna, Re-issue

The Cover and More

In 1977 Kathleen E. Woodiwiss’ long-awaited third novel made romance history when Avon released Shanna in trade paperback edition. It had a full-stretch green cover, illustrated by H. Tom Hall and designed by Barbara Bertoli. This was one of the first true American clinches. The entire exterior was painted, displaying the couple locked passionately together in a state of undress.

Playboy Press’ This Ravaged Heart by Barabara Riefe also came out in 1977 with a full-page color clinch. But Betty Maxey’s artwork doesn’t compare to Hall’s fabulous cover. Plus, Shanna had a map insert that you could unfold.

Avon heavily promoted this book, running commercial ads on daytime television and in national women’s magazines. It paid off. Shanna sold 3 million copies and was on the NY Times bestseller list for a year.

Shanna was optioned for a film, but negotiations fell through when Woodiwiss couldn’t agree with the producers on the vision. The romance genre might be different if this mild bodice ripper had been brought to the big screen in the 1970s or early 1980s!

Final Analysis of Shanna

I once referred to Shanna as the same book as Catherine Creel’s 1991 Zebra Heartfire romance Passion’s Chains. Creel certainly ripped off Woodiwiss as the main thrusts of the books are almost identical: secret marriage where the husband is a slave on the wife’s island plantation. The two novels deviate midway and then culminate in about the same place.

To be frank, I preferred Passion’s Chains more than I did Shanna, even though I enjoyed both. Perhaps the word count might have something to do with it. Passion’s Chains was 480 pages in a standard-size font. Shanna had teeny-tiny type-face on 666 super-thin pages.

Plotting and pacing matter. There was too much exposition and unnecessary antics in Shanna. In addition, I didn’t OMG love it enough at the beginning to forgive any sins that cropped up in the end, as I would in a fantastic epic book like Stormfire.

Ruark was the book’s high point, a charming, good-natured hero determined to have his woman. However, I did not understand his obsession with Shanna when he should have focused more on clearing his name. Shanna’s a spoiled, petulant brat, although, as I said, I didn’t mind that. I find mean, unlikeable heroines are more palatable than the shy, milk-and-water types or boring blank slates.

Was this a stellar old-school romance I’ll long to re-read? No, although maybe a passage or two might stay with me. However, I am glad I read Shanna. I can finally say I completed a Kathleen E. Woodiwiss romance and liked it!

Now on to The Flame and the Flower!

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

Synopsis:

A woman with surging desires of the spirit, the flesh, and the heart…

The only child of an 18th century sugar baron, lovely Shanna Trahern is given a year to find a suitable husband in London or to be married off to a dull planter. Instead, she contrives to marry Ruark Beauchamp, condemned to die for the supposed murder of a barmaid.

Certain her concocted story of a romantic elopement and marriage, followed by Ruark’s accidental death, will satisfy her father, Shanna embarks for home — the lush, intrigue-filled Carribean island of Los Camellos. But unknown to Shanna, her husband has escaped the gallows and under another name is among the bondsmen purchased by her father’s agent. Once home, Shanna is tormented by Ruark’s playful taunts — and his threat to collect “The night of love” she had promised him in prison. But when she is carried off by pirates; Ruark risks his life to save her. Now Shanna must deal with the searing passion the proud, virile Ruark has aroused…

RUARK

A man burning to possess her in vengeance and in ecstasy…

SHANNA

A romance of passion beyond wildest dreams!

SHANNA by KATHLEEN E. WOODIWSS

***

READ SHANNA FOR FREE BORROW FROM OPEN LIBRARY

Bold Texas Embrace

Historical Romance Review: Bold Texas Embrace by Victoria Thompson

historical romance review
Bold Texas Embrace by Victoria Thompson
Rating: two-half-stars
Published: 1989
Illustrator: TBD
Imprint or Line: Zebra Lovegram
Book Series: The Cowboy and the Lady #4
Published by: Kensington
Genres: Historical Romance, Bodice Ripper, Western Romance
Pages: 478
Format: Paperback
Buy on: Amazon
Reviewed by: Blue Falcon


Historical Romance Review: Bold Texas Embrace by Victoria Thompson

MILD SPOILERS 😉

The Book

This review is of Bold Texas Embrace, #4 in the “The Cowboy and the Lady” series by Victoria Thompson (Zebra/Kensington December 1989).

The Characters

Heroine: Catherine Eaton, 23. Blonde hair, blue eyes. Teacher. Originally from Philadelphia.

Hero: Sam Connors, 32. Black hair, black eyes. Owner, The Spur ranch.

The Plot

As the story begins, Catherine Eaton has arrived in Crosswicks, Texas, from her home in Philadelphia to teach the town’s children. One of the children, David Connors, 15, has great drawing skills and wants to be an artist.

This interest, however, puts him at odds with his older half-brother Sam Connors, the hero of the book. Sam, who is also David’s guardian, has his own goals for David, and soon Catherine finds herself in conflict with Sam, even as she is becoming attracted to him and him to her.

Catherine and Sam become lovers, however, he is also dealing with a range\war, as well as trying to keep David from falling for a grasping, scheming young woman.

In the end, the range war doesn’t happen. David goes to Philadelphia. Catherine and Sam marry, have a child, and have their Happily Ever After.

Upside

Bold Texas Embrace is pretty much standard Ms. Thompson historical romance. Her characters are very much in touch with their emotions and readers can see the emotional pinball the characters deal with.

Downside

Ms. Thompson didn’t make me care enough about Catherine and Sam. Part of this is the fact that there are WAY too many similarities between Bold Texas Embrace and the previous book in the “The Cowboy and the Lady” series.

To wit:

  • Both heroines–Felicity Storm in the former book, and Catherine Eaton in the latter–are from Philadelphia. However, they don’t know each other.
  • Both women are artistically inclined. Felicity is a photographer; Catherine is an artist.
  • Both fall in love with and marry Texas ranchers.

I get that any creative person will occasionally repeat themselves, but it’s nice to have a little space between repeats. The characters are not particularly well developed and the “range war” storyline is unfinished and weak.

Sex

The love scenes between Catherine and Sam aren’t particularly romantic, nor do they generate any real heat. The first sex scene between Catherine and Sam can be described as forced seduction at best, rape at worst.

Violence

Assault, battery, shootings, and killings take place. The violence is not graphic.

Bottom Line on Bold Texas Embrace

Bold Texas Embrace is my least favorite book in Victoria Thompson’s loose “The Cowboy and the Lady” series.

Location: Crosswicks, Texas.

Time: unknown.

Tropes: Artist heroine. Historical romance. Rancher hero. Texas.

2.66 Stars

Rating Report Card
Plot
2.5
Characters
2.5
Writing
3
Chemistry
1.5
Fun Factor
2.5
Cover
4
Overall: 2.7

Synopsis:

HOT-BLOODED RANCHER

Art teacher Catherine Eaton could hardly believe how stubborn Sam Conners was! Even though the rancher’s young stepbrother was an exceptionally talented painter, Sam forbade Catherine to instruct him, fearing that art would make a sissy out of him. Spunky and determined, the blond schoolmarm confronted the mule-headed cowboy…only to find that he was as handsome as he was hard-headed and as desirable as he was dictatorial. Before long she had nearly forgotten what she’d come for, as Sam’s brash, breathless embrace drove her mind all thought of anything save wanting him…

HOT TEMPERED SCHOOLMARM

Sam Conners was too absorbed by a range war to pay any attention to the town talk about a fancy new schoolteacher from Philadelphia. But when petite, pretty Catherine Eaton marched into his office, he couldn’t take his eyes off her. From the instant she opened her lush red mouth, Sam didn’t agree with a word she said. He kissed her to shut her up, then proceeded to take her mind off her troubles with some irresistible arguments of his own…until she was powerless to resist his BOLD TEXAS EMBRACE.

Bold Texas Embrace by Victoria Thompson
the sheik

Classic Romance Review: The Sheik by Edith M. Hull

 classic romance
The Sheik by Edith Maude Hull
Rating: five-stars
Published: November 10, 1919
Illustrator: N/A
Book Series: Sheik Duo #1
Genres: Classic Romance, Contemporary Romance, Bodice Ripper, Harem Romance, Forced Seduction
Pages: 296
Format: eBook, Hardcover, Paperback
Buy on: Amazon
Reviewed by: Introvert Reader


Classic Romance Review: The Sheik by Edith M. Hull

SPOILER ALERT ⚠

The Book

The Sheik by Edith M. Hull, published in 1919, is as influential to the modern romance genre as Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. Perhaps, more so.

The salacious book was a blockbuster of a success, despite its many detractors. While some modern readers may cringe at its depiction of women, sexual roles, and racial attitudes, The Sheik remains a compelling read one hundred years after its publication.

the sheik

The Sheik: The Grandmother of Bodice Rippers

“Shall I make you care? Shall I make you love me? I can make women love me when I choose.”

This year, 2022, is the 50th anniversary of Kathleen E. Woodwiss’ the Flame and the Flower, the first “modern romance novel.” The roots of modern romance go back further than 1972, however.

Although Pride and Prejudice and other works by Jane Austen were critiques of manners and social mores, the love stories were at the heart and center. For that reason, her books are considered both as literature and among the first romance novels.

As far as I’m concerned, Jane Austen and all her imitators–Georgette Heyer included–didn’t influence the modern historical genre as The Sheik did.

Oh, I liked the story of Elizabeth Bennett and Fitzwilliam Darcy just fine. I don’t obsess over it as many do. Charlotte Bronte’s tale of Jane Eyre was far more to my liking, anyway. Jane Eyre, however, is more of an ancestor to Gothic romance.

the sheik grandmother of the bodice ripper.

The First Modern Romance Novel?

“What I have I keep, until I tire of it–and I have not tired of you yet.”

For the kind of romances I enjoy, their roots lie with Edith Maude Hull’s masterpiece, The Sheik. It is the grandmother of the bodice ripper. If not for the closed-door bedroom scenes, this book would have fit right in with the romances penned in the 1970s.

In 1921, the silent film adaptation of the novel starring Agnes Ayres came out. It catapulted Rudolph Valentino’s career into movie stardom. I recall watching the film as a teen and practically swooning over the fantastic tale.

Decades later, I finally got around to reading the novel.

the sheik

The Characters and the Plot

He had seen her, had wished for her, and had taken her, and once in his power it had amused him to break her to his hand.

British-born Diana Mayo has it all: fashionable looks, wealth, and a multitude of male admirers. She’s young, thoroughly modern, and fiercely independent. If someone tells her not to do something, she considers it a dare.

Filled with boredom, the wild Diana travels to Algeria to seek adventure.

And she finds it in the powerful Sheik Ahmed Ben Hassan, who kidnaps her and whisks her off to his desert oasis.

Between the two will be fierce, passion-filled clashes filled. Diana is a contemporary-minded woman who demands equality from her peers. Even so, she cannot resist the allure of the savage, almost primitive male who seeks to dominate her.

When first published, there was nothing like this book.

the sheik

Intriguing Gender Dynamics

Some historians have noted that during “conservative” eras, the idealized feminine form becomes more “traditional.” Typically, in times of social transformation, she is perceived to be more fluid.

In the 1960’s natural hair, short skirts, and slim figures, a la model Twiggy or Mia Farrow, reigned.

In the 1980s, the style was big hair, full lips, and 36-24-36 figures like Kelly LeBrock and Cindy Crawford.

The 1920s was a post War society with women in politics and the popularization of the motion picture. Ideas of sex, gender, and sexual mores were radically changed from the rigid Victorian/Edwardian and Gilded Age Eras on both sides of the Atlantic. Hair was bobbed, hemlines were raised, and large breasts were out-of-fashion.

The Sheik is a product of its time, with Hassan noting:

But the emotion that this girl’s uncommon beauty and slender boyishness had aroused in him had not diminished during the months she had been living in his camp.

The omniscient narrator constantly refers to Diana’s boyish figure and her as a splendid example of a “garcon manque,” a French term for tomboy. That was the old-fashioned term for girls who “behave” like and hang around boys.

It made for a fascinating sexual dynamic that was only flirted with and never really delved deeply into.

the sheik

The Sheik, A Controversial Novel

To say this is a controversial book is an understatement. Because it was such a phenomenal hit, critics could not ignore it, and they were divided in their opinions. Unlike, say, Fifty Shades of GreyThe Sheik cannot be dismissed for lack of quality.

The New York Times labeled the book as “shocking” but written with “a high degree of literary skill.” It was considered “salacious” and “tawdry.”

“What do you expect of a savage? When an Arab sees a woman that he wants he takes her. I only follow the customs of my people.”

If there was contention about this book 123 years ago, it’s practically obscene today and viewed as problematic. It has been accused of promoting part of rape culture, and it reeks of colonial attitudes.

There may be merit to discussing those arguments, as nothing exists in a vacuum. Nevertheless, I say, “Yes. And?” Fiction demands the freedom to write from any perspective. If it is a story worth telling, the story will be told.

the sheik

My Opinion

“If he killed me he could not kill my love!”

From its initial publication continuing to this day, The Sheik remains scandalous. It was an immediate bestseller, yet it received no respect from critics. The novel was labeled “poisonously salacious” by the Literary Review. It was even banned from some communities.

And it was a huge sensation, launching a subgenre of desert romances, several sequels, film adaptations, and Rudolph Valentino’s career.

The influence of The Sheik on romance is undeniable. For many readers, it still strikes a chord today. Despite Diana’s position as a kidnapping victim, there is a strong theme of female power and independence.

Even so, The Sheik gives a picture of the social order of its time. It captured the contemporary attitudes toward colonialism. Perhaps worse, The Sheik portrayed sexual dominance as a means to love.

the sheik

Final Analysis of The Sheik

E. M. Hull’s desert epic made me feel like a 12-year-old young girl discovering romance. For me, The Sheik was a thrilling experience! It’s pure entertainment, a rush from start to finish. I loved the film; the book was even better.

Without this romance, I don’t know if bodice-rippers or Mills & Boon romances, or the Harlequin Presents line would have ever existed. As stated, The Sheik is grandmother of the bodice ripper.

As for the naysayers?

Perhaps it’s good advice not to take fiction so seriously.

The Sheik is unreality. A dark fantasy. An erotic nightmare. Perhaps a little of both.

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

Synopsis:

Diana Mayo is young, beautiful, wealthy–and independent. Bored by the eligible bachelors and endless parties of the English aristocracy, she arranges for a horseback trek through the Algerian desert. Two days into her adventure, Diana is kidnapped by the powerful Sheik Ahmed Ben Hassan, who forces her into submission. Diana tries desperately to resist but finds herself falling in love with this dark and handsome stranger.

Only when a rival chieftain steals Diana away does the Sheik realize that what he feels for her is more than mere passion. He has been conquered–and risks everything to get her back. The power of love reaches across the desert sands, leading to the thrilling and unexpected conclusion.

THE SHEIK BY EDITH MAUD HULL
Rebel Vixen

Historical Romance Review: Rebel Vixen by Dana Ransom

historical romance review
Rebel Vixen by Dana Ransom
Rating: five-stars
Published: 1987
Illustrator: TBD
Imprint or Line: Zebra Heartfire
Published by: Kensington
Genres: Civil War Romance, Historical Romance, Bodice Ripper
Pages: 445
Format: Paperback
Buy on: AmazonAbeBooks
Reviewed by: Introvert Reader


Historical Romance Review: Rebel Vixen by Dana Ransom

MILD SPOILERS 😉

Love & Betrayal

The Beginning: Love

Rebel Vixen commences by diving right into the story.

As the Civil War rages throughout the United States, 21-year-old Savannah Russell is on a ship in the Caribbean bringing food and medical supplies to her Southern brethren when she spots a body floating in the water. She urges the sailors to bring him aboard.

However, when they see the man’s Union buckle on his uniform, everyone but Savannah wants to throw the enemy back into the sea. Savannah is defiant and swears to help save the Yankee sailor, despite what anyone says, including her Uncle, who’s in charge.

Savannah takes the officer on land and brings him to an inn. With a doctor’s aid, she helps him recover, saving his injured arm from amputation. She is instantly attracted to the blond-haired Lt. Commander named Skyler Reade. He, in turn, falls madly for the woman who saved his life.

Upon a tropical beach, Savannah and Skyler exchange their words of love, promising to be together forever.

The Beginning: Betrayal

As they begin to make love, an explosion shatters the silence. In horror, Savannah realizes that the Union army has taken her Uncle’s ship. Skyler tells her that the ship was loaded with weapons and ammunition, not medicine and supplies, and as a Union soldier, he had a responsibility to report it.

He vows his love for Savannah, as she sees that every man on board, including her uncle, is now a prisoner of war. In a rage, Savannah strikes at Skyler, reinjuring his arm, and flees away in horror, declaring her eternal hatred.

The Book: Rebel Vixen

Thus begins one of my all-time favorite romance novels, Rebel Vixen by Dana Ransom (aka Nancy Gideon).

Yes, it’s a cheesy-looking Zebra Heartfire, with a bosomy-clinch cover and cornball title. It must be read to be fully appreciated.

The scope is grand, spanning years across the American North and South, with war, death, love, and birth. This “bodice-ripper lite” was so well written and emotional that it made me cry tears of sadness and joy.

Seriously, Rebel Vixen is one of the best books I’ve read.

Not surprising, as Dana Ransom’s Zebras are almost all among my favorites, along with the great Deana James and, to a lesser extent, Penelope Neri.

The Plot: The American Civil War

Savannah

Savannah is the oldest daughter of three children. Her father was a casualty of war, her brother is off fighting, and now with her uncle imprisoned, she finds herself burdened as the head of the family with an enormity of responsibilities on her shoulders.

Unconventionally beautiful, she has no time for gaiety as the war rages on, destroying everything she ever knew. Saving Skyler was instinctive, as she deeply values human life. She has the weight of the world upon her, and despite her recalcitrance, Skyler is her one bright spot in the darkness.

Skyler

A Man Without Purpose

Skyler Reade has no real purpose in life, bouncing aimlessly along from adventure to adventure. As the middle son of an upper-crust Philadelphia family, he’s sort of flitting along in life when the war starts.

His father is a respected doctor, his older brother is settled down with a family and fighting for the Union, and even Skyler’s wayward younger brother seems to be following in the family’s footsteps of pursuing a medical degree.

Skyler has a “girlfriend” at home, not someone he feels serious about–although she absolutely does about him–who encourages him to pursue politics. To be a politician, he’ll have to have some military experience. But as Skyler was not keen on fighting a war he cared nothing about, he entered the Navy because he thought he’d see little battle action at sea.

A Genuinely Nice Guy

Although Skyler is a drifter suffering from middle child syndrome, he seeks to be virtuous. The main characteristic I adore about Skyler is that he is a nice guy. A decent, caring, empathetic human being.

Yes, he is a bit domineering at times, but if 19th-century women weren’t 3rd wave feminists, you damn sure can’t expect the men to have been. He is relentless in his pursuit of Savannah, vowing to make her love him once again. Most times, he’s generous and kind. Even so, other times, he can be demanding.

However, spoiler warning here: there is one bodice ripper-type scene.

A “forced seduction” occurs after Savannah taunts Skyler and tells him of her many lovers–a lie–for which he is instantly regretful and never repeats.

Skyler is genuinely kind to Savannah despite her shrewishness. He pursues Savannah across the North and South, confident that there is nothing that could ever shatter their love.

Then again, maybe there is.

A Sensitive Subject Matter

As this Rebel Vixen is set during the US Civil War, slavery is a large part of the plot. I can understand that the sensitivity on this topic repels a lot of modern romance readers from this era. However, there’s no sugar-coating it. Savannah’s family owns plantations, and as such, they own slaves.

As far as Savannah’s views on slavery, like the war, it’s complicated. Ever since she was a child, Savannah’s father has allowed one slave to be freed at her request on her birthday. Although Savannah herself questions the righteousness of slavery, she will not betray her family, her state, and “The Cause.”

On the other hand, Skyler is aghast at the practice. He finds purpose in life through two motivations: to reobtain Savannah’s love and trust and fight for his nation until slavery is eliminated.

I adore the conclusion of this book as it’s reminiscent of the end of John Jakes’ mini-series North and South Part I and the scene with Lesley Anne Downs and Patrick Swayze. It always makes me chuckle. What the hell, that series was so good, so it’s ok with me that Ransom borrowed a bit from that ending.

“Why me? Why would you want me?” she asked in bewildered frustration.

“You–you make everything else so unimportant… I’ve never had much direction in my life, nothing I wanted to devote myself to until you held my hand and sat with me when I prayed I would die. Just wanting to hear your voice made me fight to get through the hell of each day. I loved you before I even saw your face.”

Final Analysis of Rebel Vixen

Rebel Vixen is a book I go back and enjoy every few years. For me, it’s an old friend with reliable characters who go through tragic circumstances but come out of it united and secure in their love for each other.

I truly hope author Dana Ransom (aka Nancy Gideon) regains her rights to this book from Kensington and is able to republish it in digital format. It would be a shame for this romance to remain a hidden gem, for only lovers of old paperbacks to discover.

If you’re in the mood for an old-skool romance read that skirts with being un-PC but doesn’t have an over-the-top-Alpha hero you’d want to hit in the head with a frying pan, I can’t recommend a better read than Rebel Vixen.

5 Stars

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

Synopsis:

TENDER INNOCENCE
When Savannah Russell spotted the lone survivor drifting among the shipwreck’s debris, nothing could have stopped her from rescuing him. Not even that she was sailing on a Confederate blockade runner while he wore the uniform of the Union Navy. As a spirited Southerner, she hated to help the enemy, but as a woman she could not let him die. So she nursed him herself, rejoicing as pain left his startling gray eyes and strength returned to his lean, muscular body. And before she had time to guard against the unwanted desire his gentle touch aroused in her, she had given her enemy more than her compassion …. she had given him her heart.

WANTON PASSION
Skyler Reade felt more than gratitude for the raven-haired rebel who’d saved his life. Her courage had earned his boundless admiration; her beauty had sparked his limitless desire. She’d risked everything to help him and he knew that staying with her would only endanger them both. Still, he had to taste the beckoning sweetness of her lips, had to caress the ivory smoothness of her skin before he could leave her. Someday he would return to build a future with his seductive Savannah, but for tonight he could only give her the warmth of his embrace and the promise that she would always be his treasured, tantalizing REBEL VIXEN.

REBEL VIXEN by DANA RANSOM
yankee mistress

Historical Romance Review: Yankee Mistress by Ashley Snow

Synopsis:

Black-Hearted Captain

When lovely abolitionist Selene Sprague overheard secret Confederate strategy, the spiriited miss knew right then and there her duty was to inform the Union army. But as she galloped off into the inky night, cunning Rebel officer Wade Kinsolving reined in her horse and managed to lock Selene in his arms until she revealed her scheme. Refusing to admit to the pleasure of his embrace, the patriotic wench swore she’d undermine the traitor’s plans—even if it meant pretending ecstasy with each kiss they shared.

Busybody Beauty

Captain Wade Kinsolving figured the gorgeous eavesdropper was up to no good, but since the sumptuous spy was so enticing, he’d punish her his own way. His bedroll would be her prison, his company would be her penance, and his caresses would be her torture. The arrogant Southerner gloried in ruining each of the willful girl’s tricks and, craving the challenge of changing the hatred in her eyes to rapture, decided he’d make her his forever, as his own foxy, sassy Yankee mistress.

YANKEE MISTRESS by ASHLEY SNOW

SPOILER ALERT ⚠

The Book

This review is of Yankee Mistress a standalone from May 1989 by Ashley Snow, published by Zebra/Kensington as a Zebra Heartfire.

The Plot

Yankee Mistress by Ashley Snow begins at an unspecified time during the Civil War. Selene Sprague, the heroine, is working in a tavern in Manassas, Virginia for her uncle, John Carpenter–both of her parents have passed. She overhears information about the Confederate war plans which will be helpful to the Union Army. Selene tries to get the plans to the Union forces but is stopped by Confederate Captain Wade Kinsolving, the hero of the book.

Wade later rapes Selene, who tries again to escape but is caught again by Wade.

After catching her again, Wade kidnaps Selene and takes her first to Norfolk, Virginia, and later to Barbados. (This is all to save his mission). He also marries Selene in a shipboard ceremony.

Selene and Wade are happy as a couple in Barbados. For a while, anyway. Their happiness ends when Simon Lazar, a contemporary of Selene’s from Virginia, arrives. Later, Lazar and Selene head to London. Wade soon arrives in London, and he and Selene reunite and have sex. He also achieves part of his mission, or so he thinks. Selene leaves London after being brutally assaulted by Lazar and killing him.

Selene returns to Virginia to search for Wade. Their first reunion doesn’t go well, but eventually, they reconcile.

In the end, Wade kills Lazar, who miraculously survived his attempted killing by Selene, and she and Wade have their Happily Ever After.

Upside

There is one good sex scene in the book. Beyond that…

Downside

Wade is a 2x rapist, an emotional, mental, and physical abuser. He is, to put it simply, a human piece of fecal matter.

While I can give Selene some credit for her strength in nursing the wounded and dead during the Civil War, and I can allow that she has little control over what happens to her due to the fact that she has no money, I can criticize her for her decision to fall in love with an individual who abuses her and treats her poorly throughout the book, which I found extraordinarily stupid. There is zero character development and no romance at all between Selene and Wade. None of the characters in the book are remotely likable.

Sex

As mentioned, there is one good sex scene. There are others, but they don’t approach a decent level.

Violence

As mentioned, Wade rapes Selene twice. She is also raped a third time by a peer of the realm. There are other scenes of assault, battery, wounded soldiers, and killings. The violence other than the rapes is not graphic.

Bottom Line on Yankee Mistress

I never thought I would read a book worse than Cassie Edwards’ dreadful, Eugenia’s Embrace. With Yankee Mistress, Ashley Snow has proven me sadly wrong.

0 stars.

Tropes: Civil War. Historical Romance. Rapist “Hero”.

0.5 Stars

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
Sweet Savage love

Historical Romance Review: Sweet Savage Love by Rosemary Rogers

historical romance review
Sweet Savage Love by Rosemary Rogers
Rating: four-stars
Published: 1974
Illustrator: Unknown, H. Tom Hall
Book Series: Ginny & Steve #1, Morgan & Challenger Saga #1
Published by: Avon
Genres: Historical Romance, Bodice Ripper, Western Romance
Pages: 636
Format: Paperback, eBook
Buy on: Amazon
Reviewed by: Introvert Reader


Historical Romance Review: Sweet Savage Love by Rosemary Rogers

SPOILER ALERT ⚠

Sweet Savage Love, The (Other) Mother of Romance

Where to begin with this review? Sweet Savage Love by the great Rosemary Rogers is–along with Kathleen E. WoodiwissThe Flame and the Flower–the blockbuster historical that launched a new genre: the modern romance novel.

Published by Avon in 1974, this 700+ page doorstopper was a monumental game-changer in an era of social transformation. Sweet Savage Love showed readers that “good” women could have passionate sex with a hero outside of marriage and also have passionate sex with men other than the hero.

Of course, the hero was laying pipe across the United States and Mexico, the primary setting for Sweet Savage Love.

This is a true bodice ripper, featuring rape, forced seduction, abduction, cheating, adultery, multiple sex partners, a dominant, magnetic hero, and a heroine who stomps her feet in anger while her eyes flash in defiance.

sweet-savage-love-hall
Sweet Savage Love, Alternative Cover version, Avon, Tom Hall cover art

The Hero & The Heroine

Our heroine Virginia “Ginny” Brandon, is the half-French, half-American convent-raised daughter of a US Senator. She has fiery copper hair and flashing, slanted green eyes.

Ginny loves to dance like a gypsy, kicking her legs up in the air, her skirts swirling around her. You will hear this repeated constantly throughout the book.

Steve Morgan is this romance’s–ahem–hero. He is a darkly-tanned former Union soldier with deep blue eyes and black hair.

Rogers modeled him after Clint Eastwood, among others. I also got a Gregory Peck vibe from “Duel In the Sun” about Steve.

Imagine the most macho, virile man you possibly can. Picture ovulating women throwing themselves at his feet while low-T males shrink in self-awareness as that super-male confidently swaggers by.

That imaginary ideal isn’t fit to be a pimple sprouting hair on Steve Morgan’s muscular chest.

Steve is a soldier, a spy, a cowboy, and a Comanche ally. He’s a wealthy ranchero of mixed American and Spanish-Mexican descent. He is muy hombre, as we shall see.

Sweet Savage Love, Alternate Version, Troubador

The Epic Plot

Steve the Stud Meets Ginny the Dancing Gypsy

The lovely Virginia Brandon returns to the United States from France, where she had been raised in a convent. Her widowed father has remarried a gorgeous woman young woman. Much, much younger.

Ginny’s stepmother, Sonya, is quite familiar with Steve “The Stud” Morgan. They shared a passionate night together, where Steve practically raped her. Of course, Sonya enjoyed his illicit forced seduction. There are few women who haven’t fallen prey to Steve’s animal magnetism.

A scandal ensues from Sonya and Steve’s dalliance and Steve finds himself potentially facing the death penalty. He agrees to act as a spy in exchange for his life. It’s suspected that Senator Brandon is up to traitorous acts.

Senator Brandon has interests in Mexico, particularly with the controlling government of Emperor Maximillian. Steve–who is against the French–is charged with accompanying the Brandons across the country. He plans to draw them into a trap with the help of some Bandidos. The plot takes off from here.

Steve kidnaps Ginny, and though she fights him like a hellion, she–like all women with a pulse–falls for his ultra studliness. Circumstances find Ginny and Steve caught in a compromising situation and they are forced to marry.

But do you think marriage will stop Esteban Alvarado (Steve’s Spanish name) from being el tigere that he is? No way. He’s kissing broads in front of his new wife and banging other women on the side.

sweet savage love bodice ripper
Sweet Savage Love, Alternate Version, Troubador

Two Strong-Willed, Beautiful Idiots

The best part of the story is when Ginny and Steve are trekking through the Western wilderness. But Rogers doesn’t like her characters being happy. She throws everything imaginable at them.

The action takes us to Mexico, where Ginny and Steve are separated multiple times. There are lies, deceptions, and double-crosses. Mexican soldiers violate Ginny. A deranged doctor tortures Steve…and then some!

Ginny believes Steve is dead, so she becomes the willing mistress of a young señor.

When she finds out Steve is alive, she goes in search of him. Steve believes Ginny betrayed him, so he despises her, even as he lusts after her ravishing body. Lack of communication and big misunderstandings rule the day.

Oh, will these crazy kids just get over themselves and stay together forever?

My Opinion

Hablo Espanole?

One thing I recall about Sweet Savage Love is that much of the Spanish written was almost gibberish. This was a common occurrence in a lot of 1970s and 1980s romances, be they Harlequin Presents or bodice rippers. Rosemary Rogers’ good friend Shirlee Busbee had that same issue in her book While Passion Sleeps.

Spanish is, I think, the third most common language on Earth. It should have been easy for a former secretary like Rogers to get an English-to-Spanish dictionary and copy down a few words.

Ah, well, that’s a minor gripe.

rosemary rogers bodice ripper

Fast and Furious

The book is divided into sections and begins with a long prologue. It’s a hefty brick of a novel with words in tiny font. Thankfully, Rogers’ prose isn’t as purple and verbose as Woodiwiss’, so the pace is fast.

Still, Rogers has a penchant for repeating descriptions. Mentions of Ginny’s coppery hair and slanted green eyes and Steve’s lean, muscular figure seemed to be on every page. It got tedious.

Once the book got rolling, Sweet Savage Love was a gripping read. Rogers threw so much trauma at her characters; sometimes, I didn’t want to look!

This novel is not for the squeamish, sensitive reader. I first read this at 13, which I think was too young to truly appreciate the grand scope of this tawdry bodice ripper. Sweet Savage Love scared me. I couldn’t conceive heroes and heroines could act the way Ginny and Steve did.

It wasn’t until well into my twenties that I could handle that kind of behavior because my perspectives on romance novels had expanded to be open to new experiences.

sweet savage love rosemary rogers
Sweet Savage Love, Harlequin, 2014

Final Analysis of Sweet Savage Love

Sweet Savage Love is a seminal piece of fiction, a lusty saga all lovers of old-school romance should read.

I wouldn’t rank it the most incredible bodice ripper ever, however. Christine Monson’s Stormfire, Teresa Denys’ The Flesh and the Devil and The Silver Devil, and Anita Mills’ Lady of Fire are better written and engaging.

In my opinion, Rogers’ Wicked Loving Lies is her best book, with more sensitive characterization and deeper themes. It was just more fun than Sweet Savage Love.

The protagonists were wishy-washy and emotional, despite being adults. (At least Steve was a full-grown adult. I think Ginny was 16 or 17 in the beginning.) Steve was a slut. Ginny was a Mary Sue, too beautiful and desirable.

The immature duo couldn’t decide if they wanted to be together or not. The only thing these two could agree on was that they liked banging.

Even so, I enjoyed this overall. Ginny and Steve were larger-than-life people in a story that was larger-than-life.

Sweet Savage Love is an experience you won’t want to miss. It’s a thrilling co-progenitor of the modern romance genre.

I’d rate this bodice ripper between 4 and 4.5 stars. Although it’s not without flaws, I’d say it does merit a high mark.

4.24 Stars

Rating Report Card
Plot
4
Characters
4
Writing
4.5
Chemistry
4.5
Fun Factor
4.5
Cover
3.5
Overall: 4.2

Synopsis:

A tale of human emotion that lays bare the heights and depths of love, passion and desire in old and new worlds…as we follow Virginia Brandon, beautiful, impudent and innocent, from the glittering ballrooms of Paris to the sensuality of life in New Orleans to the splendor of intrigue-filled Mexico.

A tale of unending passion, never to be forgotten…the story of Virginia’s love for Steven Morgan, a love so powerful that she will risk anything for him…even her life.

SWEET SAVAGE LOVE by ROSEMARY ROGERS
the honey is bitter

Category Romance Review: The Honey Is Bitter by Violet Winspear

category romance
The Honey Is Bitter by Violet Winspear
Rating: four-stars
Published: 1967
Illustrator: Don Sinclair
Imprint or Line: Harlequin Presents #6
Book Series: Stephanos #1
Published by: Harlequin, Mills & Boon
Genres: Category Romance, Contemporary Romance, Vintage Romance
Pages: 190
Format: Paperback, eBook, Hardcover
Buy on: Amazon
Reviewed by: Introvert Reader


Category Romance Review: The Honey Is Bitter by Violet Winspear

MILD SPOILERS 😉

The Book

Along with Anne Mather and Anne Hampson, Violet Winspear was one of the three original authors for the Harlequin Presents line when it launched in 1973. Her bestseller, The Honey is Bitter, was first published in 1967 by Mills and Boon.

The books had about 30 reprintings under Harlequin and the first in her Stephanos series.

the honey is bitter violet winspear
Mills & Boon, 1967 edition

The Plot

Part One of The Honey Is Bitter

The Honey Is Bitter features a Greek hero named Paul. I swear, these classic Presents had about 5 or 6 names for heroes! Paul, Dominic, Nick/Nico, Alex, and Andre/Andreas. Plus, the plots were nonsensical, with an intimidating male running roughshod over the heroine, as occurs here.

This book’s Paul is a Greek tycoon who blackmails Domini into marriage. How? By holding over her head that her brother embezzled funds from Paul’s company.

Why does he want a young British girl like Domini? Because Paul is Greek, and his pride demands vengeance this way! Although she is outraged by Paul’s demands, Domini acquiesces fairly easily. Nor does she turn to anyone for help.

On their wedding night, Domini runs out into the darkness and is swept into the sea. Whether that was a genuine attempt to end her life is left up to the reader. Soon, after a bit of coaxing, Domini falls into Paul’s arms and into his bed.

And that’s the end of chapter one! Quite a lot of action. With more drama to come.

the honey is bitter violet winspear
Mills & Boon 1974 Edition

Part Two of The Honey Is Bitter

Paul is much older, and one wonders what–besides the obvious–he sees in Domini.

Domini is hard to like because she’s so caustic, so… bitter. It’s understandable, though. No woman wants to be forced into marriage with a handsome, sensual, magnetic, powerful, wealthy man who desires her above all women. (Except as an escapist fantasy, naturally. 😉)

Paul whisks Domini to his Grecian villa. Despite her discontent, Domini cannot deny Paul’s allure. While she swaps verbal barbs with him during the day, they communicate on a carnal level at night.

Then the man Domini had fancied herself in love with comes back into her life, demanding she leaves Paul. Tragedy strikes. Will Domini leave Paul forever? Or is it too late and her heart already his?

the honey is bitter
The Honey Is Bitter, Violet Winspear, Harlequin, 1984 re-issue

Final Analysis of The Honey Is Bitter

For an older Presents, The Honey Is Bitter was deeply sensual even though the love scenes were behind closed doors. Paul employs forced seduction with Domini, so readers who dislike that trope are warned.

This vintage romance stars a cruel hero and prickly heroine. Paul is inscrutable yet domineering; Domini is determined yet ill-tempered. Together, they make a passionate pairing.

This was a fascinating tale that had me hooked from the first. But then I have a soft spot for dark, somewhat offensive romances, especially with solid writing. Violet Winspear provides just that.

I can see why The Honey Is Bitter was a Harlequin sensation in its day.

Rating Report Card
Plot
4
Characters
4
Writing
4.5
Chemistry
4
Fun Factor
4
Cover
4.5
Overall: 4.2

Synopsis

“Keep your love. Did I ever ask for it?”

Paul’s voice rang out. His face was a taut sculpture, chiseled out of stone-as she felt certain his heart was.

“No,” Domini threw at him, “but you’re not quite so inhuman as to enjoy for very long the companionship of a wife who hates you!”

THE HONEY IS BITTER by VIOLET WINSPEAR
the silver devil teresa denys

Historical Romance Review: The Silver Devil by Teresa Denys

historical romance review
The Silver Devil by Teresa Denys
Rating: four-half-stars
Published: 1978
Illustrator: H. Tom Hall
Published by: Ballantine
Genres: Historical Romance, Bodice Ripper, Renaissance Era Romance
Pages: 380
Format: Paperback
Buy on: AmazonThriftBooksOpen Library (BORROW FOR FREE)
Reviewed by: Introvert Reader


Historical Romance Review: The Silver Devil by Teresa Denys

SPOILER ALERT ⚠

The Book

I’ve put off posting an analysis of Teresa Denys‘ first book, The Silver Devil, for a long time because I didn’t quite know how to critique it. If you’re a hard-core lover of old-school romance or bodice rippers, you might be familiar with this legendary novel.

A Legendary Romance

Teresa Denys was a magnificent author whose writing pulled the reader in from the first word and never lets go. Sadly, she died young in the mid-1980s’ after only publishing two books. The Silver Devil was followed by The Flesh and the Devil. Both are superlative works of fiction.

The Silver Devil is out-of-print, a hard paperback to find. And if you do, it will cost you quite a penny! On e-bay, the only one I currently see available costs $159. That’s relatively cheap compared to the other listings that are upwards of a thousand dollars.

I purchased my edition eleven years ago for $12. At the time, I thought that was too much!

There’s a good reason this book is highly prized.

The Silver Devil captivated me with its stunning characterization and intense, passionate tone. The enclosed world of 380 pages (my Futura Publications Ltd/Troubador version) made me truly believe that in the imaginary Dukedom of Cabria, there lived a proud Duke so handsome and omnipotent that with a snap of his fingers, he was swiftly provided with whatever he desired.

Including one lovely peasant girl named Felicia.

the silver devil
The Silver Devil, Troubador Books, UK edition

The Set-Up

“He sat on his horse unmoving, a somber black figure in startling contrast to the vivid colors about him, the sun dazzling on his white gold hair… There was no laughter in his face, and his eyes were not searching the housefronts for diversion–instead, he was staring intently straight up at my window.”

THE SILVER DEVIL

It is a hot summer in the year 1604 in Fidena, a fictional town in the fictional province of Cabria, set just north of Naples. Felicia Guardi is the sister of an innkeeper who’s just gotten married. Her sister-in-law, Celia, is a greedy and harsh taskmistress. Felicia’s half-brother, Antonio, is not much better, as he bears no love for the girl with whom he only shares a mother.

For Felicia was not the child of their mother’s husband. Her actual father spent one brief night at the inn, sharing a fleeting moment of passion with her mamma.

Adding to the gothic allure of this novel is the narration. The story is told from Felicia’s first-person perspective, appropriate for such a macabre tale of lust and love. She describes the overwhelming heat and decay of Fidena during a hot summer when the plague that runs through town.

Like a princess out of a fairy tale, Felicia is forced to slave away her days until a handsome prince falls in love with her and takes her to his castle home.

The Villainous Hero: The Silver Devil

One day Felicia stands by the window and is seen by Duke Domenico, a white-blond-haired, black-eyed sensualist of a tyrant. His desire for her is powerful and instantaneous. The Duke demands to have her, and with a snap of his fingers, she is made his.

Felicia does not want to go willingly. Yet what is she, an illegitimate peasant, to do? In vain, she resists. Felicia’s brother and sister-in-law drug her to surrender to the devil’s demands.

Although Felicia is attracted to this magnetic demi-god, she displays a strong will, refusing his seduction despite how futile.

Domenico treats her as a jealously-guarded treasure. Felicia’s innate strength demands no less than a queen’s respect.

The Story

Domenico’s ardor for Felicia becomes a raging obsession. He is monstrous in his possessiveness. In one unforgettable scene, Felicia smiles at a handsome youth. Enraged, Domenico has the boy brutally tortured to death.

As they travel through the hot, dusty lands, a retinue of servants and sycophants escort Domenico and Felicia. Former mistresses accompany Domenico, vying fruitlessly for his attention. He humiliates them callously when they seek his favor.

The Silver Devil was written in 1978 and, for its time, took a daring risk with the lead male character. The hero is/was bisexual. Domenico had a past affair with Pierro, a childhood friend who now is one of his courtiers. He only has disdain for Pierro, who pathetically apes Domenico’s looks and style.

Once Domenico’s affection dies out, only contempt remains. Domenico’s eyes and heart belong to his beloved Felicia alone.

I won’t spoil what evil deeds he has in store for his hangers-on. Suffice it enough to say he does his admirers wrong. He is ruthless in his brutality.

A Difficult to Believe HEA

As a result, it’s no surprise when the people turn against Domenico.

The beautiful Prince falls from grace. Felicia alone stands by his side, aiding him in his quest to regain power. Domenico is humbled several times over while Felicia remains at his side. Felicia proves she is more than an object of desire. She has grit and fortitude where others fail. With her by his side, Domenica will rise to power once more.

The novel culminates with Domenico declaring his love in a surprisingly vulnerable demonstration of emotion.

“I knew that love would not turn the silver devil into an angel. He would remain what he was–subtle yet childish, unfeeling yet passionate, lost irretrievably to everything but his own desire. But he loved me–and I loved him, now and forever.

THE SILVER DEVIL

My Opinion

The writing in The Silver Devil is gripping. However, it’s not a sweet tale that leaves a pleasant taste in my mouth.

Reading this like a simple love story doesn’t work. It’s too dark, too gothic, and too gruesome for me to call it one.

It is a fascinating character study of an unhinged, narcissistic megalomaniac and his female object of jealous obsession.

I cannot give this book five stars because it fails on one singular level. The Silver Devil is fabulous historical fiction. It’s a monumental piece of psychological analysis. But is it a romance? Only if I engage in a suspension of all disbelief.

Final Analysis of The Silver Devil

SPOILER ⚠

Although Domenico is the absolute ruler of a wealthy Duchy, he is not a typical “Alpha male.” Alphas are devoted to their mates, but they are also leaders who command respect. Domenico struggles spectacularly at this. His Dukedom is overtaken, and he must maneuver his way back into power. This is done not by coalescing allies who will eagerly follow his lead. He must attain this through deception, posing as a lowly peasant.

He is feared by others but not loved. Contrary to Machiavelli’s perspective, fear alone is not enough to keep Domenico secure.

In the last pages of The Silver Devil, Felicia gives birth to a son, the heir to Cabria. The novel concludes on a gloriously positive note.

Even so, I had doubts about the happy finale. Domenico is a mad despot. I could see the inhabitants of Cabria taking him out, Mussolini-style. Lord knows what would happen to Felicia and their son! My imagination goes wild, and it’s never a good end.

For that, it’s best to close the book and leave this story in its final moment of ultimate bliss.

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

Post Script: Read The Silver Devil For Free Online

I don’t usually post links for free books on the internet unless it’s to borrow from Open Library. However, the author has been deceased for more than thirty years, with no heirs. In light of that, I have linked to several sources where you can read the free PDF or internet version of The Silver Devil at no cost.


Synopsis

He was cold. He was cruel. A ruthless sensualist riding headlong to hell. He was the Silver Devil – Domenico, Duke of Cabria.

Felicia was the illegitimate sister of a tavern-keeper. She felt nothing but terror when they told her that she had been chosen as the Duke’s next mistress, and when they took her, decked in silks and jewels to the Silver Devil’s bed…

THE SILVER DEVIL BY TERESA DENYS
Paradise and More

Historical Romance Review: Paradise and More by Shirl Henke

historical romance review
Paradise and More by Shirl Henke
Rating: four-stars
Published: 1991
Illustrator: Pino
Book Series: House of Torres #1
Published by: Dorchester, Leisure
Genres: Historical Romance, Bodice Ripper
Pages: 443
Format: eBook, Paperback
Buy on: AmazonThriftBooks
Reviewed by: Introvert Reader


Historical Romance Review: Paradise and More by Shirl Henke

SPOILER ALERT ⚠

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. Why would anyone want to hide that stunning beauty?

As for the book itself? I was conflicted. It’s both excellent at times and frustrating at others.

The Old World

A swashbuckling historical, Paradise and More is the first entry in the House of Torres duo. This romance is in late 1400s Spain. This is a seminal time in history with Columbus’ exploration into the “New World.” This was months after the expulsion of Jews from Spain. The Catholic Monarchs of Castile and Aragon had just 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. Although, 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, a likable heroine, and a unique setting. It needed a to-die-for hero to elevate it to a spectacular level.

For those curious to continue the story, the love lives of Aaron’s two sons are told in the sequel, Return to Paradise.

4 Stars

Rating Report Card
Plot
4
Characters
3.5
Writing
4
Chemistry
4.5
Fun Factor
4
Cover
5
Overall: 4.2

Synopsis

Second in command to Cristobal Colon, Aaron sets sail for the Indies seeking adventure in the new world and fleeing persecution in the old. Caught between King Fernando’s desire and Queen Ysabel’s jealousy, Magdalena follows the man she has always loved to the ends of the known world and beyond. Drawn together across religious barriers and storm-tossed oceans, they discover a lush paradise fraught with danger and desire.

PARADISE AND MORE by SHIRL HENKE
first love wild love janelle taylor

Historical Romance Review: First Love, Wild Love by Janelle Taylor

First Love, Wild Love, Janelle Taylor, Zebra, 1984, cover artist TBD

MILD SPOILERS 😉

4 1/2 Stars

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Reviewed by Blue Falcon

The Set-Up

This review is of First Love, Wild Love by Janelle Taylor.

First Love, Wild Love, a Zebra Lovegram romance, begins in Texas, where Calinda Braxton, the heroine, has come from England to investigate the disappearance of her father, Elliott “Brax” Braxton. Her arrival in Texas is not welcoming, as the stagecoach she’s on is robbed. The stagecoach guard is killed, and the other passengers blame her because she fought back. Disconsolate and penniless, Calinda is taken in by the madam of a house of ill repute and given a room. What happens here sets the tone for the rest of the book.

The Plot

Calinda is given laudanum by the madam (not for nefarious purposes, but to help her sleep). Into the room comes the owner, Lynx Cardone, the hero of the book. Thinking that Calinda either was sent to his room or heard about him and decided to come on her own, Lynx has dubious consent sex with Calinda. She agrees to have sex with him, but she’s under the influence of the drug. Afterward, they argue and vow never to see each other again.

Later, Calinda is visited by Rankin Cardone, Brax’s former partner in their ranch and, unknown to her at the time, Lynx’s father. Rankin invites Calinda to come to the ranch (not entirely for altruistic reasons; he also wants to know what happened to Brax, and he’s hoping to match Calinda and Lynx, not knowing they already know each other in the biblical sense). When Lynx comes home, he sees Calinda and thinks she’s a gold-digger out to trap him, which is not the case. Once that issue is resolved, Calinda and Lynx fall in love and marry. Calinda’s happy, Lynx is happy, Rankin’s happy.

One person who is definitely NOT happy is Salina Mendoza, the Cardone’s housekeeper, who fancied herself the future Mrs. Lynx Cardone. She tries various tactics to get rid of Calinda, from defiance to trying to seduce Lynx, to kidnapping to conspiracy to commit murder. None of these efforts ultimately succeed, but they do drive a wedge between Calinda and Lynx.

Another issue between Calinda and Lynx is his frequent absences from home. Eventually, the reasons behind this are explained.

By the end of the book, the reasons for Brax’s disappearance are explained as well, and Calinda and Lynx have their Happily Ever After.

Upside

Calinda is a strong character. She has to deal with a lot of heartache, pain-physical and emotional-as well as various forms of danger, but she survives.

Downside

Some of Calinda’s dangerous situations occur due to her naivete, and she finds herself in trouble and relies on Lynx to save her.

Lynx is too perfect a hero. He finds himself in dangerous situations and always comes out scot-free without a scratch. I found this unrealistic.

What I REALLY didn’t like, however, is the way Mrs. Taylor resolved the Brax issue. Rather than Brax explaining in his own words, there are hints throughout the book and a summary at the end. I feel the book would have been better if Brax–and the others involved–could have spoken in their own words about what happened and why it happened. I found the ending very unsatisfying.

Sex

Lots of love scenes with lots of euphemisms and purple prose. That’s how Mrs. Taylor writes her love scenes.

Violence

In addition to the stagecoach guard being killed, Calinda is shot in the shoulder but survives. Plus other scenes of shootings, assault, and batteries. The violence is not graphic.

Bottom Line

Books like First Love, Wild Love deserve a gradient of stars. It’s not really a 5-star book; more like 4.25 or 4.5 stars.

Read for First Love, Wild Love FREE at INTERNETARCHIVE.COM

old school historicals thumbnail

15 Old School Historical Romances That Revolutionized the Genre

list of best 15 old school bodice ripper novels

15 “Best” Old-School Historical Romances

Best Bodice Rippers or Just Old School Romance?

Sweet Savage Flame has compiled a list of “the best romance novels/ bodice rippers,” demonstrating the genre’s evolution in the last third of the 20th century. These are 15 old-school historicals we consider to be must-reads for those who wish to understand the roots of the romance industry.

Detractors of these novels may disparage them as mere bodice rippers. To us, a “bodice ripper” romance is a term of endearment. We embrace it without shame. Moreover, we appreciate how pivotal that (unfairly maligned) subgenre was in the era’s early years.

There are books on this list that, indeed, are “hardcore” bodice rippers–i.e., romances where the hero forces himself on the heroine. Such was the nature of the early years of the old-school romance era. But as the list goes into the late 1980s and the 1990s, they have disappeared.

This List Has Only Some of the Best Romances; There Are Many More

Sweet Savage Flame’s position on such controversial matters is never to shrink away from the past. We look back head-on and try to investigate, analyze, reflect, and understand.

Most of our picks are seminal works that transformed the industry’s evolution. A few are so notable or unforgettable we feel they merit special appreciation.

Links to our opinions and ratings are provided in the descriptions, but five of the fifteen listed are yet to be reviewed by our staff. We have read all of these and consider them essential reads. We aim to review all books on this list in the upcoming year.

Please note this is not a complete compilation of essential works. This is just a small sample of relevant texts from the thousands of paperback romances published from 1972 to 2000.

The List of 15 Romances to Read, in Chronological Order

#1 The Flame and the Flower

best romance novel flame and flower

Kathleen E. Woodiwiss radically transformed the concept of the romance novel with The Flame and the Flower. Before its 1972 publication by Avon, romantic novels with happy endings never included “explicit” sex scenes between protagonists.

After the hero of The Flame and the Flower, Brandon Birmingham, mistakes the heroine, Heather, for a prostitute, he forces himself upon her. Too late, he discovers the girl is–was–a virgin.

Throughout this doorstopper of a book, Brandon violates Heather several more times before they mutually consent to make love. This is due to Brandon’s transformation into a kinder, more decent man, all to be worthy of Heather’s love.

Contemporary perspectives would consider Brandon’s behavior to be criminal. Nevertheless, fifty years ago, millions of readers were drawn to this love story, viewing the actions as part of the fantasy of “forced seduction.” This was ostensibly a plot device that allowed unmarried virgins to be sexually active without guilt.

The closed-door love scenes for “good girls” were now relics of the past. Although today we categorize The Flame and the Flower as old-school, it marked the start of the “modern era of romance.” The bodice ripper was born.

And the romance genre–and books overall–would never be the same.


#2 Sweet Savage Love

best bodice ripper  novel sweet savage love

Capitalizing on the success of The Flame and the FlowerRosemary Rogers first book ratcheted up the melodrama and sexiness to a new level of extreme. Rape, forced seduction, multiple partners, cheating, and violence were prevalent parts of the story.

Women couldn’t get enough of it, catapulting Rogers to fame and riches.

Sweet Savage Love sold millions and millions of copies, resulting in several sequels and spinoffs.

This revolutionary Western told the tale of Ginny Brandon and Steve Morgan. Here, Rogers’ depicted a heroine who could enjoy sex with men besides the hero.

Inevitably, it seemed this type of ultra-sexual romp would mark the course of historical romances for the foreseeable future.


#3 Moonstruck Madness

best old-school romance novel moonstruck madness

Moonstruck Madness was Laurie McBain‘s second outing. This novel cemented her status as an Avon “Queen of Romance.” (Although–supposedly–McBain co-authored her romance novels with her father.)

This swashbuckling old-school historical romance was a huge best-seller and the first in a popular trilogy about the Dominick Family.

The plot differed from Woodiwiss’ and Rogers’ works in that lovemaking was consensual. There was no bed-hopping, and the violence was not gratuitous.

Moonstruck Madness was a kinder, gentler offering with no bodice-ripping in sight.

Fans flocked to the more tender romantic style. It ultimately produced long-term success.


#4 The Silver Devil

best bodice ripper novel the silver devil

The Silver Devil’s Duke Domenico is possibly the most extreme anti-hero ever to appear in an old-school romance novel. 

Over 45 years after its publication, many readers frequently discuss this book still highly-talked about and consider it one of the best bodice rippers ever written. Teresa Denys’ first-person-POV romance with an Italian beauty is a gripping read from the very first lines.

The powerful and megalomaniacal Duke sees the heroine Felicia at her window, desires her, and soon purchases her from her brother. Domenico’s obsession over her reigns supreme; he goes into murderous rages at the slightest hint of jealousy.

The prose in The Silver Devil is magnificent. The scenes of violence and brutality are intense. The hero is…a complicated man. The novel ends with the typical HEA. Even so, it’s hard to see a happy ending lasting beyond the pages of this book.

If you’re fortunate enough to find the Ballantine edition with the H. Tom Hall cover, it could cost you up to several hundred dollars.


#5 Fires of Winter

fires of winter

Johanna Lindsey‘s third novel, Fires of Winter, was a Viking romance about a captive Welsh woman and her Nordic owner. Marauders raid Lady Brenna’s home, kill the men and enslave and ravish the women. They spare only Brenna from ravishment and violence as the Viking leader has plans for her. She is a valuable prize that he plans to gift as a slave to his youngest son.

Just over 300 pages long (half the length of Woodiwiss’ and Roger’s fat epics), Fires of Winter is a lean, action-packed lean, bodice ripper.

The theme here is all about the battle between the sexes. Although there is forced seduction/ rape, this romance has no cheating. That made quite a difference to many readers looking for monogamous love stories.

However, the couple does argue–a lot. This was a common trait of many of Lindsey’s earlier works.

Johanna Lindsey cemented her status as one of romance’s top best-selling authors with this bodice ripper. The Robert McGinnis romance novel cover design is legendary, featuring the first naked man on a romance cover.


#6 Skye O’Malley

skye o'malley

Skye O’Malley is “The Queen of Erotic Romance,” Bertrice Smallpiece de resistance–her magnum opus. She wrote over 50 novels, and this is her finest work.

In this Tudor-era romance, the beauteous Irish lass Skye O’Malley amasses numerous husbands, lovers, children, and enemies.

And many true loves.

This is the lustiest of bodice rippers. Skye experiences the most rollicking adventures any heroine in Romancelandia could only dream of.


#7 Savage Ecstasy

savage ecstasy

Janelle Taylor’s Savage Ecstasy wasn’t the first historical bodice ripper published by Zebra books. It wasn’t even the first best-seller out of Kensington’s flagship imprint. It was, however, the one that firmly marked the largest US independent publisher on the map as a major player. 

In the decade that followed, Zebra would be a dominant force to be reckoned with in the romance field.

Savage Ecstasy sold over a million copies, as did its sequel, Defiant Ecstasy. It spawned a long-running series that told the love stories of Gray Eagle and Alisha and their children and their spouses.

Savage Ecstasy was one of the first publications of the enormously popular Native American romance subgenre. Readers consumed these romantic novels in droves until well into the 2000s.


#8 Stormfire

old-school best romance novel stormfire

Christine Monson’s Stormfire is perhaps one of the genre’s last hardcore bodice-rippers. Stormfire made some romantic novels of the 1970s appear tame in contrast.

This tale of vengeance is extreme in its brutality. Set in Regency Era England, Ireland and Napoleonic France, it keeps hitting the reader with action and insanity.

From the moment the heroine is kidnapped and violated by the hero, we can see this is not a romance for the faint-hearted.

Like The Silver Devil, Stormfire transcended its seemingly sordid content through thoughtful, superb writing and intense characterization.

Like that other romance, this is considered one of the best bodice rippers ever. Plus, it, too, is hard to find and expensive if you do!


#9 Whitney, My Love

regency romance novel whitney my love

Whitney, My Love by Judith McNaught is the story of a gawky, coltish girl in love with a charming young man who barely notices her.

She goes off to finish school and returns a beauty. Then Whitney Stone finds herself forced into marriage with the dark Duke of Westmoreland. After a tumultuous beginning, they slowly learn to love one another.

Whitney, My Love is a beloved classic to this day. It reinvented the Regency romance by making it more sensual and increasing the page length and scope.


#10 A Knight in Shining Armor

old-school best romance a knight in shining armor

Jude Deveraux‘s A Knight in Shining Armor is a tear-jerker of a travel romance. Take note of the book’s cover. It was not Deveraux’s typical stepback or clinch cover but a simple design showing an encircled gauntlet holding a flower.

This was a sign of “respectability” for Deveraux, signifying that she was one of Pocket Books‘ most successful authors. A Knight in Shining Armor had been released in a hardcover edition in 1989 before being printed in paperback, extremely rare for romance writers, who had always been associated with with “pulp” genres.

The heroine, Douglass, is transported back to Tudor-era England and falls in love with an Elizabethan knight. Things take a twist when she returns to the future.

And so does the hero! But now he doesn’t recognize her.

The pair fall in love both in the past and the present eras. Will they ever find their forever somewhere in time?


#11 Gentle Rogue

best bodice ripper romances gentle rogue

Yes, Johanna Lindsey appears twice on this list–for a good reason.

Lindsey’s Gentle Rogue might not be historically accurate as for a Regency romance. Yet it’s so whimsical, romantic, witty, and the best of her Malory series; it’s a gem!

James Malory is an absolute cad. The tables are turned on him when he falls in love with a beauty disguised–quite poorly–as a cabin boy. Then Georgina abandons him at a port.

He’ll have to deal with the wrath of her five older brothers to get things straightened out.


#12 Outlander

best bodice ripper romances outlander

Although Diana Gabaldon has said that Outlander is not a romance novel, it does qualify as one–if you consider it a standalone.

It has the two elements required for the genre: a central love story that ends HEA. Although the subsequent books in the series would separate the lovers through time and space, the first entry is pure romance.

Outlander–or Cross-Stitch as it’s known elsewhere–is, at its core, a historical romance that features time travel. The married-in-the-future heroine, Claire, comes off as improbably perfect (in one scene, she fights a wolf and kills it with her bare hands!).

Jamie Frasier, however, is a favorite hero of many romance readers.

Outlander has been adapted into a popular television show, introducing new fans to this already successful novel.


#13 Flowers from the Storm

best bodice ripper romances flowers from the storm

Flowers from the Storm by the talented Laura Kinsale is an absolutely unusual yet stellar romance. Kinsale’s writing is superb. Romance is at its intellectual best here.

The plot is this: a disreputable rogue of a man succumbs to a stroke.

The Earl of Jervaulx is mainly paralyzed and incapable of speech. A prim Quaker mathematician takes on the daunting task of rehabilitating him. Soon, they discover that he has a secret baby from his married mistress when the child is dropped off at his home.

How can such two disparate people be happy together?

This emotional, exquisitely written book is one of the 1990s best romance novels and deserves a look.


#14 Dreaming of You

best romance books DREAMING OF YOU

Although we prefer its predecessor, Then Came You, the Regency-era romance Dreaming of You by Lisa Kleypas is a monumental book that catapulted the author to superstardom.

Readers adore the hero, Derek Craven. The sexy, snaggle-toothed London rough pulled himself up by his bootstraps. He now runs a gaming hall and brothel.

Craven falls for a curious, bespectacled young woman named Sara. She turns his entire world asunder with her wondering innocence.


#15 Lord of Scoundrels

best romance novels LORD OF SCOUNDRELS

In Loretta Chase’s old-school Regency-era romance, Lord of Scoundrels, The Marquess of Dain was abused as a child for his ugliness and grew up thinking himself worthless. So he now engages in a life of debauched chaos.

Dain meets his match in Jessica Trent, who initially seeks vengeance against him. She then changes course and fall in love.

However, after he dishonors her, Jessica shoots Dain. This makes Loretta Chase’s Lord of Scoundrels a controversial romance in some eyes and a must-read in others.

While the rippers of the 1970s were now a remnant of the past, the power dynamics between males and females remained paramount in the genre.


Your Opinion

Again, this is not a complete syllabus of the best historical books in romance. We could have made this list much longer, but we settled on only 15 books. Now we want to hear from you.

What old-school historical romance do you think we left off this list? Do you agree or disagree with our choices? Do you think any of these books rank as the best in romance?

How do you feel about bodice ripper romances? If you were creating a list of best contemporary romances, which books would you choose?

As always, please drop a comment, and let’s talk romance!

Virginia Vixen

Historical Romance Review: Virginia Vixen by Kay McMahon

Virginia Vixen, Kay McMahon, Zebra, 1986, John Ennis cover art

MILD SPOILERS 😉

2 1/2 Stars

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

Virgina Vixen by Kay McMahon

This review is of Virginia Vixen by Kay McMahon. Published in May 1989, this book is part of a series connected to four other books by Ms. McMahon.

The Plot

The book begins in Williamsburg, Virginia, circa 1774. Rebecca Wilde, a reporter for the Virginia Gazette and the heroine of the book, is investigating the murder of a slave who was a childhood friend of hers. Arriving at the same time is Alec Stone, the hero of the book, who has come to Virginia from England for two purposes; to find his father’s identity and to investigate the disappearance of one of his employees.

Rebecca and Alec meet for the first time when they end up in the same bed together and they have sex. Soon after this encounter, Rebecca writes an article all but calling Alec a murderer (based on flimsy, circumstantial evidence). This leads to several angry interactions between her and others, and other forms of trouble.

Despite their tempestuous relationship, Rebecca and Alec call a truce and decide to work together. They also have a few more intimate encounters before Alec makes plans to leave Williamsburg, unhappy that he didn’t find what he was looking for.

Soon after Alec’s departure, Rebecca discovers she’s pregnant with his child, and Alec finds out his father’s identity and gains a family. Upon discovering that Rebecca is pregnant with his child, Alec forces her to marry him. They then leave Williamsburg and sail to Alec’s home in Jamaica. There, they will face more problems, some personal, others potentially fatal.

In the end, Rebecca and Alec come to discover that their two investigations are connected to each other, they discover they love each other and find their Happily Ever After.

Upside

The best part of Virginia Vixen comes in the last 3rd of the book. It is here that Alec learns the identity of his father, gains a family, and realizes that he loves Rebecca, and she him. It is also where the book takes a turn toward achieving emotional depth. The mystery running through the book is fairly well-plotted.

Downside

One long-standing issue I’ve had with Ms. McMahon’s writing is her tendency to have her “heroes” rape the heroines, and that is the case here as well, although some readers might disagree with my characterization.

On a less controversial note, Virginia Vixen’ has other issues. While I sort of liked her and understood her anger at being condescended to, Rebecca is an “act first, think 100th” character, and her reckless nature finds her in many forms of trouble. I liked Alec-except for the part about his being a rapist-and understood his desire to find out about his parentage. However, Ms. McMahon never really made me care about neither Rebecca nor Alec in a way that I want to when I read a book. There is very little to no actual romance in the book, as Rebecca and Alec are apart more than they are together, and Rebecca and Alec have very little chemistry. Memo to authors: arguing and fighting is NOT chemistry.

Sex

Three love scenes between Rebecca and Alec, none of which are graphic nor generate a lot of heat.

Violence

Off-screen killings. Assault and battery, attempted murder, and a shooting. The violence is not graphic.

Bottom Line

Virginia Vixen is probably one of Kay McMahon’s best books. That’s not necessarily a compliment, as I haven’t liked most of her books. 2.53 stars

Reviewed by Blue Falcon

passion's wicked torment

Historical Romance Review: Passion’s Wicked Torment by Melissa Hepburne

Passion’s Wicked Torment, Melissa Hepburne, Pinnacle Books, 1980, cover art Bill Maugham

Spoiler Alert & Warning: This Review and/or This Book May Offend You (Maybe) ⚠

3 Stars

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Pinnacle BooksPassion’s Wicked Torment is a balls-to-wall 20th-century bodice ripper set in the gangster era during American Prohibition. From New York to Chicago, from Alaska to Europe, this book hops around the globe and features lots of mutually lusty sex scenes, rapes, and gangbangs. It stars a heroine so stupid and dumb, she could only have been written by Mr. Melissa Hepburne himself, the author of the blockbuster bestseller (I’m not kidding, it sold over a million copies!) Passion’s Proud Captive.

Aren’t Do-Do Birds Extinct?

Our heroine, Kristin Fleming, is perhaps an IQ point or two higher than Passion’s Proud Captive’s brainless Jenny-fair, whose stupidity made that book a hilarious blast. Now, I am not insulting our resilient sisters and aunts and mothers and grandmothers of the past when I refer to Hepburne’s heroines as too-stupid-to-live. This so-called historical fictional romance plays fast and loose with history, waffles around on the romance, and is HEAVY on the fiction. I doubt many women in reality who were capable of dressing themselves or had the mental know-how to expel their body wastes in a bowl of some sort ever inserted themselves into the moronic situations these caricatures of female protagonists did.

Here the heroine’s so dumb, and the action so predictable, yet somehow compelling, it’s like watching multiple gory car-wrecks in slow-mo, one after another, after another.

Kristin’s brother Chad gets kidnapped by a bunch of mafiosos. She has the brilliant idea to infiltrate a mobster’s club to find out where he is. Of course, Kristin has to get a makeover and change her persona. She’s a long-haired, virginal good girl, and that won’t do as she plans to sink her hooks into the head Capo, become his moll, and use her wiles to find her brother.

So she enters the club with her bobbed hair, slinky dress, and new fake identity & cozies up to the owner of a club, this hood, Dallas Hunter, to find who kidnapped her brother. With her gorgeous blonde looks, it’s as easy as cream pie to get into his bed. But Hunter gets angry with her when Kristin asks too many questions about his illegal biz while in bed. Newbie mistake; pillow talk is for AFTER sex, not during!

This is the Plot? For Real?

Dallas Hunter is a real Eye-talian with a dash of British panache. The next morning at breakfast:

Hunter ordered for both of them: scrambled eggs, spaghetti, sausage and buttered rolls. He also ordered kippers for himself, a smoked fish that was an English specialty.

Kristen sort of becomes Hunter’s gal, but she’s looking for bigger fish because she needs to get to the ultimate leader to find out what happened to her brother. Ironman is the top cat, and if anyone knows where bro-bro is, it would be he. So despite her burgeoning feelings for Hunter, she pursues Ironman, and that plan falls apart in spectacular fashion.

For you see, our hero Hunter is really a Fed, working undercover to infiltrate the mob. He, like Kristin, wants to find her brother, who is being held prisoner for reasons I forget but don’t really matter as this plot is (I’m not sorry to use this word) retarted (the misspelling is intentional).

Ironman finds out Kristin is not who she says she is, so he does some pretty nasty things to her. He has her drugged, up, chained to a bed, and forced into a vile porno with a sadistic creep. Things go from worse to worst for our heroine with a plan that’s not a plan.

First Plan: Kristen gets kidnapped, Hunter has to save her.

Second Plan: Kristen gets kidnapped, Hunter has to save her.

Third Plan: Kristen gets kidnapped, Hunter has to save her.

Oh, did I repeat myself? Well, that’s what this story does, too.

North to Alaska

Through various convoluted contrivances, Kristin finds herself in Alaska, where she meets a great bear of a man, McShane, a former Canadian Mountie. She and McShane enter a partnership to start a gambling house. They also get involved in a love affair with each other. McShane was the most decent character in this alleged romance novel and should have been the hero. This was the third Hepburne book I’ve read, so going by pattern, it seems s/he was setting McShane up to be the hero for a next book that never materialized (Hunter, this book’s male protagonist, and had been the “other” guy in a previous novel).

Really, in this brief portion of the book, Hepburne shows s/he’s capable of writing decent characters and a somewhat believable romance. 

This was incredible. [Kristin] was surprising herself as well as McShane. Not only by her professions of caring for him deeply, but also by her strength and refusal to submit quietly. She felt more like a real woman now than she ever had before, a strong-willed woman who knew what she wanted and went after it.

Ah, if only. Kristen should have stayed in Alaska. But remember, she has to find her brother, Mr. MacGuffin. So she returns to the mobsters’ world, and she and McShane buy a ship to use for illegal gambling and drinking off the coast of Long Island.

Alas, those plans fall apart, as the mob doesn’t like competition, and Hunter again comes to the rescue. More plot shit is flung at the proverbial walls.

Kristin sells her share of the casino ship to McShane and flees to Europe to party her sorrows away.

A Gary Stu Supporting Character?

An unusual aspect of this book is that the author Melissa Hepburne, whose real name is Craig Broude, literally self-inserts himself into the story to have a gang-bang sex scene with the heroine. It’s tongue-in-cheek but also rather sad, as Kristin drinks, parties, and sleeps with various men in an attempt to forget all the hurts committed upon her body and spirit.

When Kristin finds out that Hunter is looking for her, she asks Broude, or Brady, as he’s called in the story, to make him scarce: 

Would Brady succeed in throwing him off her trail? Probably, she thought. Her American friend was a very smart man and could be extremely cunning and crafty when he put his mind to it. The reward she promised him would certainly motivate him to do his devious best, that she was sure of.

Eventually, Kristin finds her way back to the States, sober and resolved. Dallas Hunter is there for her, and the two rekindle their romance (What romance, you might ask? Don’t. Just roll with it.).

But uh-uh-uh, there are still evil goons after them. Fortunately, the true hero of this book, McShane, who truly loves that silly do-do bird, shows up in his boat and saves the day, allowing for Hunter and Kristin to live their lives happily ever after.

Oh, and as for the missing Chad, the brother Kristin was searching for, and the whole reason she was embroiled in this ridiculous mess? Ignominously killed off partway through the book and long-forgotten by the end.

Final Analysis of Passion’s Wicked Torment

Melissa Hepburne only published four romances, but they were successful enough to put some serious cash into Craig Broude’s pockets. Good for him, I say. For despite being lackluster love stories, they were some seriously whacktastic reads I was glad to experience. Passion’s Wicked Torment, his final bodice ripper, wasn’t as fun or shocking as Passion’s Proud Captive, his first, so that it might have been a case of diminishing returns. Still, for the not-easily offended reader, these books made for wild rides.

Reviewed by Introvert Reader