Driving Force, a Sally Wentworth Harlequin Presents, offers few surprises but is a satisfactory read regardless.
West Marriot– our hero, not a 3-star hotel but a famous race car driver–was terribly injured in a race several months ago. Madeleine French, a nurse and physiotherapist, had been married to West for four years. Maddy couldn’t withstand the anxiety of being married to a man with such a dangerous career, so she gave him an ultimatum, married life or fast cars. When he refused to quit, she left him. Several months later, West was in an accident that immobilized him.
Maddy receives a call from West’s mother, requesting to catch up. In fact, Laura, West’s mother, declares to Laura West isn’t recovering at all and may never walk again. She begs Maddy to come to help her ex-husband, and although Maddy initially refuses, in time, she realizes she still loves her ex and can’t abandon him. Maddy knows it won’t be easy for West to accept her, as their divorce was acrimonious, with West, a man a proud man, begging Maddy to stay.
A power play over wills begins. West is furious that Maddy thinks she can come back into his life when she abandoned him before. Maddie is determined to see him as the man he once was–even if the man he once was broke her heart by choosing a life of danger over being a stable partner, whom she didn’t have to fret over constantly.
As is typical in so many of these Harleys, to add some more drama to the mix is another woman on the prowl, waiting for West to make his comeback and hinting at all sorts of nasty things to the heroine. There’s another man who’s very interested in Maddy, and Maddy does little to dissuade him of his interest. But these are just sides characters to the main plot.
Have Maddy and West learned enough over the past year of trauma to make it possible for the two to make it another go of their marriage?
Final Analysis of Driving Force
In another author’s hand, this book would be a tepid so-so read. But with Sally Wentworth’s standard angsty writing, a passionate hero who can admit when he’s wrong, and a defiant heroine who will compromise but won’t be run-over, this makes for an emotionally satisfying romance.
It’s obvious a man like West won’t be content with just walking again. He’s determined not just to enter but to win another race.
In the end, there’s a gentle resolution between the two. West gets his last hurrah, and Maddy gets her happily ever after with the man she loves.
The Treacherous Heart by Angela Alexie is a tale of a Gaelic, black-haired, fiery-spirited lass forced by circumstances to become a thief to provide for her family, only to be thwarted by an arrogant, scar-faced, golden-haired Duke…
Sadly, that’s where the similarities end. If you remove all the intelligent writing, the interesting side characters, and the sexual chemistry between the leads from McBain’s book, we have this dull, meandering read.
Except for Jennifer Blake, I’ve come to find that Fawcett-published romances were rarely ever excellent, and this dud is another to put in the slush pile.
The Treacherous Heart begins one day in Lancashire, England. Some drunken soldiers looking for excitement come upon the house of the Avory family. They ransack the home, kill the dog, the Irish-born widow Lady Delilah, and her young son before raping the teenage daughter.
The eldest sister and heroine, Raven, was not in residence while this occurred. She arrived only in time to witness the aftermath of her home’s destruction. So Raven flees with her sister Crystal to London to find comfort with relatives.
While her relations are suitably affluent, Raven and Christie find their financial circumstances are tenuous at best. A greedy land manager’s mishandling of their estate has left them destitute.
Raven enters Society, going to balls while escorted by her adoring cousin Wesley, who is gaga over her. At a masquerade, she meets the Duke of Dorchester, Eric Draquewall, our hero, who is predictably cold and arrogant. The duke glares at Raven and then insults her, but to his shock, her response is to laugh in his face, causing the duke to vow that he’ll teach the haughty chit a lesson!
Responsible for her convalescing younger sister and reliant upon the charity of relatives, Raven decides she’s too good to marry a wealthy chinless wonder. Within mere pages (by page 35), she decides to be a thief. She steals jewels and precious items from the gentry who welcomed her into their homes.
Soon, tales of the audacious jewel thief make the rounds. The burglar is given the moniker “The Black Cat.” (Get it? The heroine is named Raven and has black hair and green eyes, just like a black cat! Just like a cat burglar. And nobody even knew. Does that blow your mind, or what?)
Jealous of Raven’s close relationship with her male cousin, the handsome Duke of Dorchester hires an investigator to find out if they’re secret lovers.
By page 60, he finds information that proves Raven is behind the jewel-napping antics. Dorchester could reveal her secret.
However, as Eric is attracted to Raven–what do you think that glaring and insulting was all about? That’s how these old-school romance heroes showed how much they liked a girl–he decides to blackmail her into being his mistress.
Or his wife.
Or mistress. Eric’s not really sure. All he knows is whatever Raven’s got under her velvety skirts, he wants in on that.
Raven finds that she responds to Eric’s caresses, despite her initial distaste towards any physical touch.
Raven was so disturbed by the brutality perpetrated upon her sister that she vowed no man would ever touch her.
Ironically, Crystal, the one who was violated, had an easy time finding healing through romantic and physical love. Okay, people react differently to trauma. Perhaps in the hands of a nuanced author, Raven’s survivor’s-guilt aversion to sex would have been a compelling part of her character. Alas, it isn’t. It’s just a plot contrivance to keep the hero and heroine from getting together. Circumstances occur mechanically here, without any flavor.
It Keeps Going and Going and Going…
And so Eric and Raven engage in a cat-and-mouse-will-they-or-won’t-they game for a few more pages.
Eric befriends Raven’s sister, showing he’s a nice guy. Eric’s mother thinks Raven would make the perfect wife for Eric. Raven resists the thought of marriage to this wealthy, handsome, friendly, attractive Duke because… Reasons?
When cousin Wesley finds out that Eric has been less than honorable with Raven, he challenges the Duke to a duel. Wesley is wounded in the swordfight, Eric gets scarred, and later Raven’s sister gets married. Then Eric sweeps Raven off to his estate, declaring his love for her before they finally get it on.
But Raven can’t be with Eric, because remember reasons!
So she flees to America to mooch off other family members, and The Treacherous Heart is only halfway through, and… OMG, make it stop!
Eric follows Raven to America, blah, blah, blah, a possible other woman makes an appearance, blah, blah, blah, Eric and Raven reunite, blah, blah, blah, villain seeks revenge, blah, blah, blah, happy ending.
Final Analysis of The Treacherous Heart
Events happened in Angela Alexie’s The Treacherous Heart. Characters engaged in dialogue, and time passed on, yet it was so dull.
All the pieces were in place, but the story was lifeless, like a dead frog connected to a car battery by jumper cables. Turn the ignition all you want; there’s just no spark here, no animation.
When boring writing is combined with a drawn-out, pale imitation of a superior work, it makes for a 1 star read. In this case, as I do appreciate the Elaine Gignilliat cover, I’ll give this sucker approximately one-and-a-half stars.
Rating Report Card
The lady was a thief, the gentleman was a rogue. Their stormy romance defied propriety with a daring covenant of love. Dire circumstances had left the beautiful young Lady Raven Avory bereft of family and funds. A desperate situation demanded a desperate remedy, and so she began stealing small jewels from the wealthy who had welcomed her as a guest.
She had not counted on being caught at her game, especially not by the handsome Duke of Dorchester. Suddenly she found herself forced into his debt, into his arms, into a star-crossed affair that would sweep her into a whirlwind of tangled hearts and the most brazen ecstasies of love.
Nelson’s Brand was my first and, so far, only foray into Diana Palmer‘s little corner of Romancelandia. Palmer has got a bit of a reputation in the genre as an author of ultra-macho, hairy-chested heroes and virginal, too-stupid-to-live heroines.
I read Nelson’s Brand back when in the 1990s when I subscribed to the Silhouette Desire line. They used to run a Man of the Month theme and Nelson’s Brand was that month’s pick (January 1991). I recall never being too impressed with the Desire editors’ choices, and this was one of those books that failed to impress. The Desire staff really dropped the ball by not picking Lass Small’s Four Dollars and Fifty-OneCentsover this one.
Allison Hathoway is new in town. She’s got a tragic back story where her missionary parents were killed in South America. Her friend, Winnie, treats her with kid gloves as, if she’s so delicate she might break at the slightest touch.
Gene Nelson is Winnie’s fiance’s brother. Gene and his brother, Dwight, run their family ranch together, although lately, Gene hasn’t been tending much to his responsibilities. He’s been drowning his sorrows in drink and women. Although now deceased, the man Gene thought was his father all his life, turned out not to be his biological parent at all.
Allison is inexplicably drawn to Gene, seeing something in him. Maybe it’s his furry chest, cool green eyes, or his ridiculously large…cowboy hat.
The Bad Seed Hero
Gene is supposed to be an independent, “I go my own way” kind of man. Not so much an “alpha” male, but a “lone wolf” or I guess what’s called a “sigma” male in some circles. I recently found out I’ve been erroneously referring to this type as “gamma” which is a whole ‘nother kind of guy. Sigmas are men who are traditionally “masculine” but shun groups and hierarchies.
Whatever he was supposed to be, Gene came off as… I wouldn’t call him whiny, perhaps emo is more accurate. He was an emo cowboy, a sad, pathetic case, always moping about his woes. I suppose one can say he found some solace in Allison’s purity, but it just came off as phony “dwama.”
Every time these two get together someone tries to separate them. It got a little silly, reminding me of the Seinfeld episode where George acts like a bad boy and dates one of Elaine’s employees, and Elaine desperately tries to keep them apart, because George is a “bad seed:”
Final Analysis of Nelson’s Brand
More than anything, Nelson’s Brand was dull. Silhouette Desires are short books, maxing out at 188 to 189 pages. In my eyes, this just went on forever.
I understood Gene was hurting, Allison was hurting, and they found comfort in each other despite everybody trying to keep them apart. Good for them.
Unfortunately for me, I had to vicariously experience their boring romance.
I keep hearing about how crazy-fun Diana Palmer’s books are. To my misfortune, Nelson’s Brand was not one of them.
Oh, well, Palmer has written over 160 romances. There’s bound to be a better book out there.
(COVER POINTS DO NOT COUNT TOWARDS RATING)
Rating Report Card
Can he get past betrayal?
Allison Hathoway’s life was about healing. And she was good at it. Or had been good at it until the tragedy in South America. Now she couldn’t even fix herself. She didn’t know how to go on, didn’t know what to do, or who to be.
She had that in common with Gene Nelson. After the rancher found out the truth about his father, he’d realized his whole life was a lie. He’d gone a little wild, and saw no reason not to give in to his every desire. And the minute he saw Allison, he wanted her. But underneath their explosive passion, Allison and Gene found comfort in each other’s wounded souls. And a chance to start over.
The prose is evocative and compelling, but not purple. We agonize over Catherine’s enslavement; we feel the angry passion between the lovers; we grieve Catherine’s loss and suffer from Sean’s torture.
How much misery can two people take?
There is an intense love/hate dynamic between the main characters that is the stuff of legends.
I wish writers of historical romances today wrote like this. Not necessarily the same plot lines, but with action and intensity that doesn’t delve into vulgarity.
To be honest, I wasn’t comfortable with a lot of things in the book. Regardless, Stormfire is enthralling. Even those who hate this book can’t say it’s boring.
Sean Culhane kidnaps Catherine, the daughter of a British lord, seeking vengeance for wrongs committed against his people.
He keeps Catherine captive in his estate in Ireland, where he doesn’t hesitate to rape her before sending Catherine’s bloodied undergarments to her father.
While Catherine is an innocent pawn, she is not weak. She’s a fighter who will meet Sean’s cruelties with a will of iron.
You will not believe what these two go through, what they do to each other, or what they do to others. It’s incredible, but as I said, it’s Monson’s compelling skill at writing that makes this book so special.
His spirit, like the lonely, windswept sea, was ever-restless, ever-changing, sometimes howling down to savage the unyielding land, then caressing it with a lulling embrace, inevitably wearing away its resistance.
Then again, maybe I’m a sicko because I like the plot. Yes, it’s epic and melodramatic. There’s everything but the kitchen sink. That includes: kidnapping, rape, starvation, forced slavery, multiple marriages, miscarriage, insanity, beatings, brothers fighting for the same woman, incest, castration, forcible sodomy, murder…
So much happens here!
Perhaps it’s a bit too much in the last quarter, as Sean and Catherine needed some moments together introspecting rather than acting.
Final Analysis of Stormfire
There are many detractors of Christine Monson’s controversial bodice ripper. In its defense, I say this: Stormfire isn’t supposed to be a sweet romance. It’s an old-school historical romance novel, a bodice ripper, and I use the term with great affection.
It’s a fantasy.
A dark one, definitely. Then again, so too are the vampire, werewolf, bestiality, BDSM, step-dad/ stepbrother kink, and ménage fantasies of today. Books like Stormfire present a different kind of fantasy, where the most tremendous hate can transform into love.
Would this relationship work in real life? Probably not. That’s why it’s make-believe.
Stormfire is entertaining, emotional, and unforgettable. It falters a bit towards the end, so it’s not perfect.
This is not the best romance novel ever written, but for me, it’s up there.
Rating Report Card
Abducted on her way to boarding school, a terrified Catherine Enderly was brought from England to the coast of Ireland, the prisoner of the angry and powerful young Sean Culhane—a man sworn to vengeance against her family.
Frightened but defiant, the young countess met her captor with a strength that belied her fragile loveliness. But even as Sean vowed to have his revenge on Catherine, with each encounter he became more attracted to her. Her fiery innocence was a seduction that lured the passions of long smoldering hostility into a blazing inferno of desire.
Locked in a love-hate duel, he did not suspect that the captivating beauty who fought him with such tenacity was struggling desperately against her own awakened desires, and that his touch had become the burning reminder that the fierce hatred she felt for him had become an all-consuming love.