It is now 1861, and Abigail Trent Monroe and her husband, “Cheyenne” Zeke Monroe, and their seven children are living happily in what is now present-day Colorado. Which means something bad is going to happen. It does when the Monroes travel to an Army fort. A soldier tries to rape Abbie, and Zeke later kills him.
Meanwhile, Zeke’s white half-brother, Danny, goes back east to join the Confederacy in the Civil War. In another development, Winston Garvey, ex-U.S. Senator and “Evil White Man,” is trying to find out the name and whereabouts of his half-Indian son.
As troubles mount for Zeke, Abbie, the Cheyenne, and all Indian tribes, Danny is severely wounded during the Civil War. Garvey’s son, Charles, and some of Garvey’s men have a confrontation with Zeke, Abbie, and their family. The Monroes win the confrontation.
However, the elder Garvey puts the information together and realizes that the Monroes know about his other son. This leads to Garvey sending men to kidnap Abbie, who is later emotionally, mentally, physically, and sexually abused by Garvey and his henchmen.
As the book progresses, Zeke finds Danny, and one of his other half-brothers, Lance. (A third half-brother, Lenny, was killed in the Civil War.)
Zeke also makes some peace with his biological father. Zeke and his eldest son, Wolf’s Blood, deal out justice to Garvey and his men, and Zeke and Abbie re-find each other and, for a little while, are happy again.
As always, Ms. Bittner draws tremendous pictures with her words. She brings me, as a reader, into the lives of the Monroe family. Ms. Bittner makes me see not words on a page, but real people, with real emotions.
At times, Ms. Bittner’s writing is formulaic. I’ve already described this in earlier reviews.
The weakest part of Ms. Bittner’s writing is her love scenes, which are neither particularly sexy nor imaginative to me.
Ms. Bittner, however, has a great imagination for violence, and it definitely shows up in Embrace the Wild Land. As usual, there are multiple scenes of shooting, assault, sexual assault, and killing. Toward the end of the book, it’s especially graphic.
In Ms. Bittner’s world, the bad people always get their comeuppance. Unfortunately, not before seriously hurting the good people.
Bottom Line on Embrace the Wild Land
Embrace the Wild Land isn’t my favorite book by Rosanne Bittner, but it’s still darn good.
Rating Report Card
Pioneers poured into the West; Civil War ravaged the East. But as upheaval racked the continent, the Cheyenne brave Lone Eagle and his courageous white woman Abigail Trent rediscovered their desire in the peaceful New Mexico territory. Their family grew with the years and it seemed that the troubles that had tormented them would never return to invade the ranch by the wide Arkansas River.
But the chaotic world burst in upon them, separating them again. Lone Eagle had to leave the ecstasy he found in Abigail’s arms for the horror of the white man’s war. Though fresh sorrows would always plague them, the Cheyenne warrior and his determined wife believed in their love. Though they were forced apart, they knew that somehow they would be reunited and free once more to share their chosen Savage Destiny.
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:
To punish Gray Eagle for his abhorrent behavior toward Alisha
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:
Joe Kenny, a white trapper
Jamie O’Hara, a lodgings owne
Mary O’Hara, a mute young woman and niece to Jamie O’Hara
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…
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.
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.
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.
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.
Rating Report Card
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!
This is a story about two married professional runners, Ashby and Brian. Their marriage is strained because Ashby is a rising star who is more successful than her husband, who has hit a downward trajectory. Ashby is even projected to win the Olympics one day.
Brian, in the meantime, is experiencing a downward trajectory in his career, as he is recovering from an injury that hampers his ability to run
Then Roger, a handsome running coach, comes in to help train the couple. This creates even more trouble in their marriage as Brian’s jealousy and insecurity reach massive proportions.
Will Ashby fall for Roger’s masculine allure? Will Bryan get his mojo back? No, yeah, and who cares.
Final Analysis of Glory Days
The cover doesn’t of Marilynne Rudick’s Glory Days doesn’t look too bad as pictured. However, in person, I recall it being quite ugly. The blue sky contrasted with the orange-gold tones of Ashby and Bryan’s tanned skin and looked odd.
An ugly cover for a boring book means a miserable reading experience.
This was a rare 1-star Harlequin Temptation for me.
Rating Report Card
What price glory?
Ashby and her husband, Brian O’Hara, shared a dream–to win the Olympic marathon. Only their passion for each other rivaled their passion for running. Training together, they were an unbeatable team–until Brian was sidelined by an injury. Roger Atlee, rumored to take a very personal interest in his women, began to coach Ashby.
A jealous Brian watched Ashby win race after race. Their struggles and sacrifices to make the American team together had now become a solo effort. But Brian realized he was losing something far more precious than Olympic gold. And he faced the biggest challenge of his life … to make sure their marriage went the distance
The Marriage War by Charlotte Lamb may not have the absolute worst cruel hero in Harlequin Presents’ history, but he certainly ranks in the top twenty…maybe forty.
Okay, maybe the top 50. The HP line has at least a thousand crappy heroes in its 50 years of existence.
Sancha is a stressed-out housewife with a handsome, workaholic husband named Mark. While she’s not yet middle-aged, she feels and looks her age, while Mark gets better each year like a fine vintage wine.
She is a stay-at-home mother responsible for cooking, cleaning, raising the children, and keeping her husband satisfied. She works hard on the first three. Lately, though, Sancha’s been neglecting her final “responsibility,” as her husband keeps telling her.
The twin beds in their bedroom don’t help. That became a habit when their twins were young, and Sancha had to wake up for midnight nursings and nappy changes. It had been Mark’s idea since he didn’t want his sleep disturbed by her movements.
Sancha and Mark have been married for six years. Well, if you’ve heard of the seven-year-itch, you know what happens next.
Mark has a charming secretary in the office. Capable, beautiful, attentive, and young.
Sancha starts receiving letters hinting that her husband is getting down and dirty with someone during his late-night work sessions. Is Mark having an affair with his secretary? Maybe. Maybe not. But it sure looks like he is when Sancha catches them out at a late-night dinner.
Sancha’s life crumbles around her. Even as it does, she decides, like any good woman from the lyrics of Country Music, to fight for her philandering man.
Sancha gets a makeover and decides to be sexier, but now Mark thinks his wife is getting sexy for other men! Could things get any worse?
Spoiler: The Shocking Revelations
Perhaps Mark’s twisted conscience led him to do what he did. For he tells Sancha the shocking truth. He is the one behind all the letters Sancha received, not his secretary.
Apparently, Mark has a super good reason–to motivate his wife to get over herself to fight for their marriage (i.e., cater to all of Mark’s wants and needs).
In truth, he was only planning to have an affair. Nice guy, right?
Mark figured he could have his matronly wife tend to his children and home. Meanwhile, his carnal desires would be fulfilled by other women. Starting with his secretary, who was down for it.
Instead of shagging her right away, though, Mark decided first to torment his wife with anonymous letters to make her re-evaluate what was important: him!
It all works out for Mark, as Sancha gets her mojo back, and insecurity drives her to be the devoted, horny Stepford wife he knew she could be.
So Mark dumps the floozy of a secretary. In return, Sancha promises never again to get too overwhelmed by her many responsibilities. Mark will always come first. (Yeah, he seems like he’d be that type.)
“See that? How much I want you?”
“As much as you wanted her the other night?” she asked bitterly, and he shut his eyes, groaning, turning away.
“Oh, not again! Do we have to bring that up again? Forget Jacqui!”
“I can’t. Can you? Working with her every day, seeing her, being alone with her? You may not have slept with her–but you admit you almost did. Is she going to accept the end of the affair?”
Final Analysis of The Marriage War
I’ve mentioned before how Charlotte Lamb is one of my two most beloved authors in the Harlequin Presents line. I’ve given her more 5-star ratings than any other writer in that line. But she’s also written a lot of clunkers. This is one of them.
Oh, boy, did I hate this book!
Mark was a paramecium scum-sucker. Not worthy of the title of “man.” Cruel hero? More like absolute zero!
Sancha was not much better. She was a bland, reactive character and not too many rungs above her husband in the animal kingdom.
I love Charlotte Lamb’s writings, so I’ll forgive her for this hideous attempt at “romance.” Out of her 160-plus books published, there are bound to be bad ones. And sheesh, was this one ever that!
File The Marriage War under “suck-suckity-suck.”
(Note: the cover rating does not count toward the final score.)
Rating Report Card
Something worth fighting for!
Sancha’s first instinct was to burn the anonymous letter. Its malicious message couldn’t be true: Do you know where your husband will be tonight? Do you know who he’ll be with?
Sancha adored Mark now as much as when they were first married, even though family life meant that they were no longer so close. She’d never dreamed that her tough, handsome husband would fall into the arms of another woman!
The battle was on – though when Sancha confronted Mark, she discovered the physical attraction between them was as strong as ever. But she wouldn’t let herself be seduced by him…. Not yet!
Passion’s Chains by Catherine Creel was a crazy book that in 1991 could only have been published by the Zebra romance lines. Or in 1977 by Avon.*
It was utterly unrealistic, but I had a blast with it.
Passion’s Chains was the first romance novel I read after subscribing to the Lovegram line many, many years ago. The plot description on the back of the book sounded like this would be a riot. And it was!
Lady Eden Parrish met American ship captain Roark St. Claire in England. The two people from different worlds shared a hidden, forbidden love.
The pair married in secret. However, before they could consummate their union, Eden’s family tricked her into believing the worst about Roark.
Thus, Eden is abandoned by her husband, and her is heart broken into pieces.
Then Eden’s family whisked her off to their Barbados plantation to avoid any taint of scandal.
Eden is living a lonely existence in Barbados. Months later, Roark discovers her whereabouts in the Caribbean and follows her there. The American is captured by the British and sold into slavery.
Walking through town one day, Eden sees him at the auction block. To everyone’s scandalized shock, she purchases him as her servant.
Perhaps sentimentality plays a part in me remembering this novel so fondly. I thought this book was delightful.
Roark would sneak into Eden’s room at night and assume his “husbandly rights.” By day, he labored away in the sugar fields, plotting his escape and his revenge.
On the negative side, there was a bland secondary couple and some typical boneheaded villains.
Worse, were the stupid, big misunderstandings Eden and Roark could have avoided if they just talked and listened to each other’s words!
Final Analysis of Passion’s Chains
I don’t want to re-read Catherine Creel’s Passion’s Chains to see if it stands the test of time. I want to recall it fondly because I had such a blast reading this one!
Roark was such an outstanding hero. Eden was likable enough for a heroine.
Passion’s Chains or Shanna?
*This historical romance was a rip-off/homage to Kathleen E Woodiwiss‘sShanna, as the plots are similar identical. So are the heroes’ names, except the spellings are different.
Until 2022 I had never read Shanna. I appreciated the celebrated blockbuster considerably more than I thought I would. Still, at 600+ pages, it was a long read.
Passion’s Chains is a leaner story at 400 pages, without much filler. That is amazing for a Zebra romance!
Ultimately, I enjoyed this book more than Shanna. Maybe it’s for the reason I mentioned, out of nostalgia, or just because I read Passion’s Chains first. But I did love this one.
Rating Report Card
HE HAD BETRAYED HER Lady Eden Parrish stared in shock at the bare-chested, blue-eyed rogue who stood so proudly on the Bridgetown auction block– he was none other than her husband, the despicable Roark St. Clair! Eden had been sent to Barbados in disgrace after her brief, scandalous marriage to the unscrupulous American spy…after the way he’d betrayed her, she ought to let his contract of indenture be sold to the highest bidder. But memories of how it felt to be embraced by those strong arms and held tight against that well-muscled chest flooded her mind and body, and soon Eden was offering a fortune for the right to claim him as her own!
SHE STILL LOVED HIM Roark had come to Barbados for only one reason–to reclaim his runaway bride. Of course, getting captured by the British and sold into slavery hadn’t been part of the plan, but t situation was working out nicely, things considered. He would find a to escape and take the luscious along, with or without her consent. The little minx might be his mistress now, but he’d soon be her master. He knew just how to tame her wild spirit and make those emerald eyes shimmer with passion’s fire. Before long, he would possess every silken inch of her…for this night and all the nights to come!
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.
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’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!
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.”
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.
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.”
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 readerdid “identify with, admire, or internalize” some of Shanna’s characteristics. I’m an outlier, as ever.
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.
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
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…
A man burning to possess her in vengeance and in ecstasy…
Rebel Vixencommences 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.
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 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.
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.
Rating Report Card
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.
It’s difficult for me to give Laurey Bright’s* A Perfect Marriage a coherent review because it’s a romance novel that deals with adultery.
Max and Celine have had a comfortable, friendly marriage for 12 years, however with no passion nor love. The two had been hurt prior to their marriage and agreed that a union based on friendship–not love–was best. Then things take a sharp left turn when the male protagonist “falls in love” with another woman, his co-worker. She’s much younger than he is of course. Max sleeps with her and then leaves his Celine.
But after a night of unexpected passion with Celine, Max gets his estranged wife pregnant. Finally, Max realizes, almost too late, that it’s his wife he’s loved all along.
This was a difficult romance to stomach. The heroine is way too good for the “hero,” a pathetic man in the throes of a mid-life crisis.
Despite the fact that Bright tries to make Kate, the other woman, seem like a naïve, beautiful virgin who is as much a victim as Celine, she wasn’t. In my eyes, she was a manipulative beeyotch. Kate was no innocent schoolgirl. She’s an educated attorney who had no qualms about breaking up a marriage. She even dared to ask a pregnant Celine to let Max go.
Max never sufficiently redeems himself. It is only through Celine’s love and forgiveness that reconciliation is possible.
Final Analysis of A Perfect Marriage
A Perfect Marriage by Laurey Bright was an emotional roller-coaster. The author does a wonderful job showing how separation and divorce can affect not just the spouses, but the whole extended family.
Ultimately, as hard as this book was to handle at times, it deserves a positive rating because of how it portrays the healing power of love.
A Perfect Marriage was awarded the Romance Writer’s of America’s RITA Award for Best Long Contemporary Romance in 1996.
*(Laurey Bright is a pseudonym for Daphne Clair)
To their friends, family and neighbors, Celine and Max Archer had a perfect marriage. Only the Archers knew they’d never been in love, and that nights of passion were few and far between. Still, both thought the other happy with the dry-eyed deal they’d made instead of vows…
Until Max broke the bargain—by wanting more. And suddenly, after twelve peaceful years, the perfect marriage was over…
But when Celine realized how much she loved her husband, was it too late to get him back? For unbeknownst to Max, they’d been blessed with a new beginning…”
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.
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 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.
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
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 LADY’S PLIGHT Lady Rhea Claire Dominick, fair and flawlessly beautiful daughter of a Duke, was stolen from her father’s house — and shipped to the Colonies as a slave.
A CAPTAIN’S DARING Dante Leighton, who squandered a Marquis’ inheritance in his dissolute youth, pursued his fortune at sea — and found his destiny in the amethyst eyes of a fascinating woman.
A STORM OF DESIRE They sailed the West Indian isles, discovering fabulous riches… and the raptures of a love more precious than treasure. On a secluded shore, in an idyll apart from the world, they surrendered themselves to ecstasy. But on returning to England, their joy was beset by a tempest of scandal, spite and murderous peril — which was the end of their happiness, or the dark before the radiance of their love….
DARK BEFORE THE RISING SUN by LAURIE McBAIN
SNOOZE ALERT ⚠
Great Title, Beautiful Cover, Too Bad About the Book
Dark Before the Rising Sun is the last installment in Laurie McBain‘s trilogy that began with Moonstruck Madness. This is a direct continuation of that book’s sequel, Chance the Winds of Fortune. I am breaking my rule for reviewing books that I have didn’t fully read, as I made it fairly far into this book and then skimmed to the end. Yes, it was that bad.
Perhaps I would have enjoyed this book more if it had been combined with the first book, and halved by length.
As I said in my review of Chance the Winds of Fortune, the second and third books combine for over 1000 pages. In the previous installment, the pride and joy of the Dominic family, the eldest daughter Rhea Claire was kidnapped. Events led her to be an unwilling passenger on a ship sailing the Caribbean, captained by Dante Leighton, former English Marquis turned pirate. Rhea charmed the pants off of the ship’s men, metaphorically speaking for the crew, but literally speaking of Captain Dante. Rhea and Dante found treasure and true love.
Now the pair have returned to England so Dante can regain his title as the Marquis of Jacobi, and his beloved, Rhea Claire, daughter of Moonstruck Madness‘ Sabrina and Lucien, can let her parents know she’s alive and well.
After reading the soporific precursor to this book, I found myself looking at another 500 pages to complete their stupid, boring love story. Why? I don’t know. What was the point? Rhea’s dad doesn’t like Dominic. Society still looks down at Dante. Rhea and Dominic are united in their love for one another as they head to Dante’s estate of Merdraco to re-establish his place as the rightful Marquis. There’s a nasty villain who wants to destroy Dante.
There’s Rhea acting cute as always: “Let’s meet my great family and they’ll help get your titles and estates restored now that you’re not a pirate anymore. I love you, darling. Aren’t we so wonderfully dull?”
And Dante reveals his dirty little secret: “Years ago, I once saw your mother at a party when I was a young man and had a crush on her.” That’s like a .05 on a scale of 1-100 for old-school romance craziness!
Final Analysis of Dark Before the Rising Sun
I suppose to really enjoy this book, you had to love the prior novel, and I didn’t. So I was destined to hate this one.
Dark Before the Rising Sun has a largely positive consensus in reviews I’ve seen online. I guess most people who read this far into the trilogy, do genuinely love it. Not me, the eternal contrarian.
I keep these books only for the covers, but as far as re-reading them, life’s too short!
This review is of Desperado Dream, the sequel to The Forever Passion by Karen A. Bale.
It is 11 years in publishing time, but only 1 year in book time as the relationship between Lisa Jordan Anderson and her husband, Eric Anderson, continues. The couple and their daughter, Raya, live on a ranch in Monterey, California. The relationship between Lisa and Eric was tumultuous in The Forever Passion, and nothing changes in this book. After Eric and Lisa’s brother, Tom, go to San Francisco on a legal matter, they become involved in rescuing a woman, Teresa Torres, who falls for Eric, and he becomes attracted to her too. Meanwhile, back at the Del Mar ranch, Lisa has been kidnapped by a bandido named Cruz Estacan, who has orders to kill her, Eric, and Eric’s grandfather as a means of retaking the land Cruz and his cohorts believe belongs to them.
Cruz is falling in love with Lisa, so he makes a deal with his boss to save Lisa’s life. The bargain: Her marriage to Eric will be dissolved, and she and Cruz will be married. Cruz decides to take Lisa back to his ranch in San Diego. Along the way, they stop at the home of an old friend of Cruz, Miguel Figueroa, who is Teresa’s cousin and is engaged to be married. The shock: Miguel’s future bride is Cruz’ wife, Soleda. Cruz and Soleda are not legally divorced; therefore, Cruz and Lisa are not legally married, either.
Cruz eventually takes Lisa back to his ranch, where they live together until Eric, Tom, and Teresa arrive. A tragedy takes place and Eric, Lisa, and Cruz are plunged into a dramatic love triangle. Who does Lisa choose? The answer is…you’ll have to read the book to find out!
Ms. Bale is a very evocative author. I felt her characters’ emotions and understood–if not always agreed with–their motivations for their behavior. The characters of Lisa, Cruz, Eric, and Teresa are fully developed. Ms. Bale made me feel as though I was watching real people instead of reading a book, a huge thing for me. Only the best writers can make me feel that way.
The “man or woman falling in love with two men or women” trope is, sadly, one Ms. Bale has used before; in at least 8 of Ms. Bale’s books that I’ve read. (Ms. Bale has 18 titles to her credit: Source: FictionDB. I’ve read 17 of them.) I do understand that creative individuals will repeat themselves, but to do it on 40% of your work is a bit much to me. Eric is a hypocrite. He hates the fact that Lisa was with Cruz but got upset with her when she objected to his sleeping with another woman in The Forever Passion. Do as I say, not as I do. The storyline about Cruz and his henchmen is somewhat weak.
There are sex scenes in the book, but they are quite mild.
Multiple scenes of assaults shootings, knifings, and killings. Most of the scenes are not graphic.
Desperado Dream is not good enough for a five-star rating, but it is a good low-to-mid 4-star book.
The huge failure of this Zebra Lovegram romance, Desperado’s Dream by Karen A. Bale, rests on the fact that nothing in the book description hinted this was book #2 in a series about a married couple, Eric & Lisa. Of course, Zebra book descriptions never accurately describe the plot, but I didn’t know that back then. If I had known that going into it, I never would have purchased this romance. But at the tender age of 12, I was dazzled by the Robert Sabin cover. Plus, the purported hero’s name, Cruz, reminded me of the daytime soap opera, “Santa Barbara,” its phenom super couple, Eden & Cruz, and the hunky star, A. Martinez, who played half of said super-couple.
I did know the heroine was married, as it clearly states in the book blurb:
“[W]hile her husband was away, [Lisa,] the auburn-haired beauty found it hard to deny her own passionate nature, especially when Cruz, the handsome desperado, commandeered her ranch. And when he captured her and took her to his mountain hideaway, where she was forced at gunpoint to pretend to be his bride, her protests were only half-hearted, for she found herself on the verge of surrendering to the ecstasy of her captor’s virile embrace.”
BOOK DESCRIPTION OF DESPERADO DREAM
But I had assumed this was one of those historical romances where the husband is a creep and dies, leaving the hero & heroine to be together. It wasn’t.
So Lisa & Eric are married, he leaves her and their daughter behind to take care of business matters. Lisa’s not happy about her husband leaving them alone without protection. Then this gorgeous hunk, Cruz, and his fellow banditos show up at Lisa’s ranch to take her land.
While the rest of the criminal gang are ruthless men, Cruz is kinder and gentler. He protects Lisa and keeps the men away from her, drawing antagonism from the rest of the crew.
Events turn sour and Lisa and Cruz have to pretend to be married so the men won’t molest her. At gunpoint, they are forced to prove to the banditos that their marriage is real. Cruz has sex with Lisa in a very unsexy scene where she is tearful and thinks about her husband.
The thing is, Lisa’s protests against Cruz’s lovemaking aren’t half-hearted. They’re real. She never surrenders to “the ecstasy of her captor’s virile embrace.” While Cruz is in love with her, Lisa is still madly in love with her husband, Eric, the real “hero” of this book. The man who abandoned her at the beginning of the story is the man she ends up with. That would have been fine for me if: 1) The blurb hadn’t implied Cruz was the hero, and 2) If Lisa had spent most of the book with Eric rather than Cruz.
Lisa becomes pregnant and chooses to stay with Cruz as opposed to going back to Eric and their child. There’s an other-woman, Teresa, who has designs on both of Lisa’s men.
Only after Lisa suffers a miscarriage due to the evil villainess’s machinations does Lisa leave a heartbroken Cruz behind. She really should have ended up with him because to me, Cruz seemed to love her more genuinely than Eric, who was a bit of a selfish prick.
Final Analysis of Desperado Dream
Perhaps if I had first read the precursor to Desperado Dream, called The Forever Passion, which was published over a decade prior, I would have felt differently. But as it was, I was devastated by the ending. It left a sour taste in my mouth. I think this is the first book that was in pristine condition that I ever tossed into the garbage.
I can’t recommend this book, that is unless you’ve read The Forever Passion and want to see the continuing adventures of Eric and Lisa in a book where they’re separated most of the time.
Whenever I hear of Forbidden Fantasy by Tiffany White (aka Anna Eberhardt), a category romance from the 1990s, that’s the first thought that pops into my head. Then I recall the sweet twist that the plot hinges upon.
An Editor’s Choice pick for the Harlequin Temptation line, Forbidden Fantasy was a book I enjoyed, sure enough. Although I wouldn’t rank it as an all-time great, it is etched forever in my mind.
In Forbidden Fantasy, Zoe is in Paris trying to put as much distance between herself and a bad relationship–namely, her marriage to her ex-husband. He was a cop who spent too much time at work and too little with her, both physically and emotionally. So she left him behind and fled to Europe on a voyage of self-discovery.
Now Zoe’s got French friends and loves to shop in the city. On one of her forays, she realizes a handsome American man is stalking her. What starts as a flirtatious game turns into a sensual love affair. Grey is everything her husband wasn’t: a good listener who shares his feelings with Zoe and is eager to spend time with her. What’s more, he’s a sensual, giving lover who engages in erotic delights that Zoe could have never imagined.
Is this passionate romance the real thing? Or is Zoe’s past too much of a burden to overcome, and she simply is enjoying a rebound fling?
The sex scenes in this book are not graphic. They focus very much on feeling and desire. My attention was certainly captured by their sensual nature.
Highlights include Zoe’s French friend, who is “man-hungry” in an adorable way, plus Grey makes for a sexy hero. Zoe’s character is probably the least memorable of the three. All in all, this was a fine romance, and I would recommend it to readers looking for a quick bit of escapism.
No Beans About It (A Side Story Not About the Book)
The Burnt Pot
So about the beans. I was in 7th grade, home from school, sick. My mother worked about five minutes from our house, so she came home during her lunch break. The beans had soaked overnight, so she put them in a pot to boil. Then she sternly reminded me that they should simmer on low for a little over an hour. I nodded in understanding, and she left back to work.
My siblings were either staying late after school or at daycare, so I had the house to myself for several more hours. I lay down in my upstairs bedroom and started to read this book.
At a little past 4, I heard my mother’s car pull into the driveway. Oh crap!
I ran downstairs. The house was filled with smoke.
My mother, who had a legendary temper, was infuriated! Not only would there be no beans to eat with dinner, but they had also burnt for so long that the pot was ruined, too.
I Hate Beans
So, these must be some beans, you might ask.
Ehhh. They might be the best damn beans on Earth. My siblings certainly love them.
As for me? Please don’t ask me to cook my mother’s white rice and pinto beans–or any other of her rice and bean recipes. For I’m sad to say when she goes, her recipes go with her. (Her Dominican cake with dulce de leche is another story.) Two of my sisters love her rice and beans but hate to cook. One loves to cook but is agnostic when it comes to beans. And while I enjoy cooking, I cannot stand the taste and pasty texture of beans.
Black-eyed peas, Pinto, black beans, cannellini, don’t care, I hate them all.
God bless my mother; she worked hard to stretch a dollar and feed five kids, so rice and beans–or “arro’ y ‘bichuela'”–was a staple of my young life. Except for Fridays. Then, we had eggs or bacalao–salted codfish–which I did like. Typically, though, some kind of rice with some form of bean was always served as dinner.
Rice, I have made peace with. The evil legume, however, is still my hated enemy. Peas are fine, though, as long as they’re fresh. Lentils, I abhor. While I pose as an epicurean, my stomach is that of a three-year-old child, for I am a shamefully picky eater.
Final Analysis of Forbidden Fantasy
As long as I have a memory, Forbidden Fantasy by Tiffany White is a romance I will never forget reading. Hopefully, if you pick it up, you’ll feel the same way.
But for a different reason.
Rating Report Card
A stranger was stalking her…seducing her
When Zoe fled her humdrum life to do everything she’d never dreamed of doing in Paris, she’d never, even in her wildest dreams, imagined meeting a man like Grey. He was her every forbidden fantasy and he wanted her…body and soul.
Grey challenged her to explore intimacy, to share her deepest, most private dreams and secrets. Even as his passion thrilled her, Zoe knew this was not reality. What they had was only an affair – and she needed to choose….
Blood Red Roses is, understandably, a difficult book for some readers to enjoy. However, it stands as one of my most-loved medieval romances.
It could be nostalgia goggles on this one for me, plus a love for the glorious red stepback cover. Or it could be the vivid Middle Ages setting, my favorite time period. Or it could be that this book is really a wonderful piece of romantic fiction, styled to appeal to a niche audience.
I read this Medieval romance by Katherine Deauxville (aka Maggie Davis) twice. Once in middle school and then years later in high school. The story swept me away both times.
Alwyn, the Heroine
Alwyn, the heroine of Blood Red Roses, is 28 years old. That is practically ancient for her time period for her to be unmarried. She’s a seemingly wild Welsh woman forced to be a prize in marriage to the Norman knight, Fulk de Joburg, as she’s heiress to her dead father’s lands.
They spend a passionate night together before Fulk is off again to fight for King William.
It rang true to me that a woman would be forcefully bonded to her enemy. It seemed authentic that her husband, being a man of war and conquest, would go off to fight while she lived in her castle, awaiting his return.
Fulk, the Hero
What initially drives Fulk is simple. He won lands in conquest and to help solidify the bonds of conquest, he must marry the daughter of the former lord of said lands. What drives Alwyn is simpler: hate towards her enemy and a desire to be free.
Fulk and Alwyn don’t spend much time together, they’re not deep on intimate conversations either. Their times together are passionate and forceful.
My liking for Blood Red Roses could be because I love the brutal incivility of the Middle Age era. Deauxville injects an earthy historical ambiance that I really appreciate. What is the point of historical romance without history?
There’s a scene where Fulk and his men torture a man and semi-castrate him before he flees. Fulk comments that it could have been worse: “At worst yon Welshman has one dangling nut.” Another scene depicts Fulk and his men as they stare at a woman with hairless pudenda.
The Medieval Setting of Blood Red Roses
The genital references seem to be a theme in the Deauxville Medieval series. There is a dwarf with a giant dong in the second book, Daggers of Gold, which also has lots of talk about circumcised penises (the hero is Jewish). The third, The Amethyst Crown, features more references to dwarves, foreskin, castrations, and shorn vulvas.
Blood Red Roses has middling ratings on some review sites, yet here I am praising it. I often have a contrarian opinion on certain books due to my personally peculiar tastes.
The red-haired hero is extremely cold and distant.
While Fulk is away, Alwyn has an emotional romance with a blond Scottish mason she fantasizes about and kisses.
Later is taken captive by Powys, a black-haired Welsh lord from the hills. The latter was foretold to Alwyn by a fortune-teller who told her to choose Powys as her man.
Then, there is Fulk’s cousin Geoffrey who seems to have designs on Alwyn himself.
Final Analysis of Blood Red Roses
Fulk and Alwyn have a lust-based relationship, one not based on trust or communication. Is it a love story for the ages? Probably not, but I enjoyed the atmosphere and the authenticity of the time period. Blood Red Roses is a Historical romance with a capital H on the history.
Fulk is no reformed kind-hearted hero at the end, and Alwyn will always be a disagreeable shrew. Still, I can’t give this book a lower than “I love it” rating, because frankly, I did.
Perhaps it’s a matter of temporal tastes, as back in 1991 when Blood Red Roses was released, it was fairly successful, winning the Romantic Times Reviewers Choice Award for Best Medieval Romance.
IN A LAND DIVIDED BY TREACHERY AND ENDLESS WARRING, THEY SHARED A PASSION THAT KNEW NO BOUNDS
When King William’s knight, Fulk de Jobourg, is sent to reclaim the lands of a hanged traitor, he is also commanded to take the man’s unwilling daughter as his wife. Bound and gagged, the furious Lady Alwyn is wedded to this dark-eyed, massive man who spends but one night in her bed before galloping off to fight the king’s battles once more.
Left behind to tend to the Castle Morlaix, Alwyn cannot bring to mind the face of the husband she barely knows. But her body remembers the feel of his hot touch…and the urgent passion he ignited within her. When Fulk returns, Alwyn fights his efforts to take control of her family’s estate. But she cannot resist what he brings to her at night…a sensual pleasure that binds her to him forever against her will…
In the first chapter, we experience the hero, Bruno, of Jernaeve’s life as his castle gets invaded.
As an illegitimate child, he is overlooked and left uncared for. He and his sister must hide from the marauders.
Later, it switches to the heroine Mellusine of Ulle’s more calm point of view as a child.
I enjoyed the different perspectives, although I found Bruno’s side more interesting than Mellusine’s.
As Bruno matures, he becomes a master in the arts of war. His success earns him Melusine, a “spoil of war,” for Bruno to wed. Bruno is loyal to King Stephen, and Melusine threatens the king.
Despite their differences, Mellusine and Bruno forge a strong relationship built on sexual attraction, companionship, and trust.
Earthy Medieval Realism
I loved the authentic earthiness Gellis imbued her works with. I don’t think I’ve ever read a romance where the heroine has to take a dump before. Here Melusine squats away without a care in front of the hero.
The love scenes between Bruno and Melusine had Gellis’ trademark frankness. There’s a scene where a third party in their relationship makes an appearance.
“I do not pretend that I do not desire you, Melusine…But you need not fear I will force you either. I am the master of Monsieur Jehan de la Tete Rouge–” I tapped the redhead that had pushed its way through the foreskin so she could not mistake of what I spoke, “–not he of me.'”
That had me giggling.
Historical Fiction, Not Romance
At 60% through the book, the romance is firmly cemented. Alas, here, the adventures become strictly political. At a certain point, Fires of Winter ceased to be historical romantic fiction and became purely historical.
Bruno spends much of his time away fighting for his king, while Mellusine tends to courtly and domestic affairs.
Lady Mellusine and Queen Matilda rally an army to rescue their husbands. They succeed, displaying that if need be, powerful medieval women were up to the task of warfare just as their men were.
The tale concludes happily with Mellusine and Bruno making babies and farming their lands.
Final Analysis of Fires of Winter
Fires of Winter is heavy on detailed history. Gellis is a master storyteller, at least when she remembers to tell the story instead of reciting history.
However, I felt a tad underwhelmed, despite the fine quality of the writing. A great start fizzled out to a merely satisfactory read.
I would have preferred more lines like:
“I had a long row to hoe before I could plunge my spade into Mellusine’s earth and plant a seed there.”
…Than the endless parade of dates of conquests and battles.
I’ve enjoyed several of Roberta Gellis’s works, knowing that she is heavy on history and it was never a negative aspect. There was a wonderful romance during the first half of Fires of Winter. Gellis forgot about the love story on the back end.
I would recommend this piece of historical fiction for lovers of medieval romances that emphasize the medieval aspect, not necessarily the romance.
Rating Report Card
A sparkling prize, the beautiful Mellusine of Ulle is awarded to the bastard-born Bruno of Jernaeve as a spoil of war. Bruno vows to tame the rebellious spirit of the captive beauty, but ultimately surrenders to her charms. Born of different worlds, joined in the flames of passion and intrigue, they find new strength in each other’s arms…and a burning love that defies all eternity.”
Texas Torment, a Zebra Lovegram by Catherine Creel is set in Texas, naturally, in the post-Civil War era. In this book, Adelaide has left her husband Daniel and Daniel seeks her out again.
Catherine Creel liked using the “secretly married couple that is separated & then reunited under crazy circumstances” plot, didn’t she? She had a similar thing going on in the much more fun Passion’s Chains.
Daniel’s a Yankee, while Adelaide’s family were Confederates. Daniel and Adelaide fell in love and eloped, but the war tore them apart.
Adelaide’s family moved to Texas to start a ranch. Daniel pursues and finds her, buying a neighboring ranch of his own. He agrees to keep their marriage a secret from her family and the townsfolk but is determined to win her love again.
Adelaide is an abrasive heroine and I really could not understand why she was so adamant against being with Daniel. He is such a better hero than she deserved.
Final Analysis of Texas Torment
I wish I knew where I put this book because I had some passages marked noting Daniel’s awesomeness. However, at almost 500 pages, this premise wore thin, leading to a so-so experience. It took me so long to finish Texas Torment that it became Introvert Reader’s Torment!
Janet Dailey‘s Harlequin Presents #200 Show Me takes place in the “Show Me” state of Missouri. The hero, Jake, spouts lines like this over and over again: “I’m from Missouri. You have to show me to believe.”
As the first American author of Harlequin Presents, Janet Dailey set her novels in all 50 states. I suppose this was to show foreign readers how diverse and exotic the USA can be.
Although her books never inspired me to jet-set across the country, I, too, have traveled around the States and found myself in various oh-so-glamorous US cities like
Providence, Rhode Island
Charlotte, North Carolina
South Bend, Indiana
Newark, New Jersey
Talk about exotic!
In Show Me, Jake is a bitter man who’s returned home after being away for more than half a decade.
He’s sour because he was forced to marry Tanya, the mother of his son, John. The child was a result of a drunken one-night stand Jake can’t recall.
The “hero” is a deadbeat dad, as he’s lived in Africa for 7 years and made no effort to get to know his son. Plus, he’s contemptuously open about not having been a faithful husband.
There is a Harley dramatic revelation at the end, which the heroine had to do if she expected to engage in makeup sex with her husband.
So the big twist is… Tanya isn’t really John’s mom, and Jake isn’t his dad. Their dead siblings were the real parents, and their shotgun marriage was due to a big lie/misunderstanding.
Jake didn’t have to stay away from his family for so many years if Tanya had talked to him back when the kid was born.
Final Analysis of Show Me
But what kind of story would exist if the protagonists acted like adults and engaged in conversation? It would make for a dull romance. Almost as dull as this one.
Show Me was a slow, ponderous read. I swear Janet Dailey could take a decent plot and make it as fun as reading furniture instruction manuals.
Rating Report Card
I don’t blame you for hating me at first,” Jake said. “After all, I forced you to marry me. But you do see why I had to tell you all this, don’t you? You’ve been so honest with me that I had to be the same with you.
Tanya’s heart sank. Honest! Honest! The word kept haunting her. Her supposed honesty was the one thing he admired about her.
She couldn’t possibly tell him the truth now. If she did his love for her would be shattered forever!
On her wedding day, Kate felt how miraculous was to truly love and beloved. As Hugo’s wife, she knew the rest of her life would be blessed
Then Kate overheard her husband’s grim plan for their future together–a plan of revenge against Kate! Desperately hurt and afraid of the stranger who was her husband, she ran away to Majorca, to heal her broken heart in safety and solitude
But she underestimated the power of Hugo’s will and the compulsion that drove him to reclaim her–for better, or for worse!
Sally Wentworth‘sShattered Dreams is terrible, for all the wrong reasons. It’s extremely violent, although I’ve read books where far worse events occur to the heroine. Take the bodice ripper great Stormfire, for example.
However, in this Harlequin Presents what the hero does to the heroine seems more repulsive perhaps due to its condensed nature.
Where thick historical romances like Stormfire have 400-500+ pages to deal with insane villainous heroes and their co-dependent heroines, a category romance is limited to 60,000-70,000 words. The craziness level can only be ratcheted up so far before the hero becomes irredeemable.
The Crazy Setup
Sally Wentworth always wrote very well, her prose attentive and skillful, but this was truly bizarre. Kate is happy as a bride can be on her wedding day, as she’s marrying Hugo, the man she loves. Little does she know what her marriage holds in store for her. For Hugo has had a private detective tailing his nubile young wife, and he’s found out startling information: over the past year, she’s been living with some strange man while playing the wealthy Hugo for a fool!
Of course, this strange man is not Kate’s lover; it’s her wayward half-brother, whom Hugo knows nothing about because people in these sorts of books don’t act like normal human beings on planet Earth do, speaking to each other through words.
The Crazy Plot
When Hugo first met Kate, he pursued her for a strictly sexual affair, going as far as offering her money. Kate rebuffed his initial attempts. Only when Hugo changed his tune, treating her with respect, did she acquiesce to date him.
She did not, however, sleep with him. So Hugo holds his new wife captive.
He thought she was stringing him along to sink her hooks into his total fortune. Hugo believed Kate had been cheating for months, and worst of all, that she lied about being a virgin.
The Villain Hero and the Virgin Heroine
Of course, she is a virgin, but he accuses her of being the sluttiest-slut-who-ever-did-slut. Honestly, I think Hugo was turned on by the idea… The problem was he was disgusted at himself for being turned on, so he took his aggression out on the victim, er heroine.
Hugo keeps her imprisoned, haranguing her about her slattern ways, and at one point is so enraged by Kate’s supposed infidelity that he holds her head underwater in an attempt to drown her!
Kate is not a willing victim and fights back, trying to escape several times by climbing out windows or attempting to contact friends for help. At every turn, though,
Hugo is able to prevent her from fleeing. Finally, when it seems Hugo is showing some signs of remorse, that he’s willing to accept Kate as she is, a money-hungry, cheating tramp, Kate reveals the truth. The other man is her brother, and she’s still as untouched as last year’s Christmas fruit cake.
Final Analysis of Shattered Dreams
While well-written and oddly engrossing, with a crazed villain hero Shattered Dreams is missing a critical piece in a romance novel: any semblance of romance!
There is no communication, only accusations, abuse, torture, stubbornness, pride, and outright stupidity. If Wentworth had included some inkling of love and affection between the two characters, some sort of true contrition on Hugo’s part, or shown a process of healing, perhaps the story could have been salvaged.
Readers, do not take this book seriously, but if you do, take it as a cautionary tale.
The virgin heroine, the villain-as-the-hero, the big misunderstanding, all the Harlequin tropes are here. Sally Wentworth’s The Judas Kiss is one of my favorite Harlequin Presents. (I will add a review for that one soon). Unfortunately, Shattered Dreams is on the other side of the spectrum.
Change of Life, a Harlequin American Romance by Judith Arnold, seems less a romance and more a story of a woman’s mid-life crisis and journey to self-discovery.
Lila, The Harried Housewife
Lila Chapin is a long-time married woman with several rambunctious young boys. While Daddy is the fun parent, she’s a stay-at-home mom who cooks, cleans, disciplines, and is attentive to everyone’s wants and needs.
On her 40th birthday, when her husband, Ken, and their kids forget all about it, she decides it’s time for a change in her life. She packs up her things, takes her keys, withdraws some money from their bank account, and leaves.
Lila settles into a hotel and figures it’s time to take care of her wants and needs. She informs her bewildered husband that she’s taking one month off from being a wife and mother. Lila feels she’s been taken for granted, and without her around, her family will realize how much they rely on her for everything.
Ken, of course, isn’t amused. He insists Lila come home, but she’s not budging.
A night or two of relaxation at a hotel is fun. However, Lila wants more than just to lay around and be pampered. She’s not fulfilled.
Lila volunteers at a homeless shelter, feeding the poor. She gets to know them on a more individual level and wants to help out as much as she can. Then she starts classes for the indigent to try to enhance their educational skills to gain greater opportunities.
Ken, The Well-Meaning Dad
In the meantime, Ken is doing his best to convince her to come home. Husband and wife meet up for conversations which form into dates.
However, that’s not the only guy Lila is dating! Lila meets a younger man whom she flirts with. She even goes out with him once on a late-night date.
It doesn’t lead to adultery. I wouldn’t like it if a married hero did this to his wife, so it’s not right for Lila to do this to Ken.
Ken’s not a bad guy. He loves his wife, works hard to provide for his family financially, and is a loving father.
That’s not enough for Lila, who wants a man who will support her hopes and dreams. A man who will not be so forgetful about special events like a 40th birthday party. That was rather thoughtless on Ken’s part, though, so he’s definitely not without flaws.
In the end, Lila and Ken come to a compromise, where he will spend time doing more housework and appreciate her. Meanwhile, Lila gets some “me time” working to help the poor.
Final Analysis of Change of Life
Change of Life by Judith Duncan proves one thing: women, as well as men, can be self-centered when they experience mid-life crises.
Being a full-time mother is a meaningful existence; I certainly felt that way when I was doing it. Although I can understand that not all women share the same opinion and need “more.”
It’s wonderful Lila is being fulfilled, but couldn’t she have just talked with Ken?
I’m a woman, and sometimes we feel that it takes a big dramatic show to make us heard.
Leaving your kids with your husband for a weekend to relax is one thing, even a week’s vacation. Abandoning them with no word is just as thoughtless as forgetting a birthday. And going on a date with another man while married? Bad form.
It’s always a good thing to reevaluate your beliefs and situation in life, but it’s important to communicate with your life partner if you’re unsatisfied with how things are. In real life, walking out on your family could lead to divorce.
Lila was lucky that her plan worked. As Change of Life is a romance, it couldn’t have ended any other way.
Rating Report Card
On Lila Chapin’s birthday, something snapped. She packed her bags, wrote a note and left-just like that.
Unbeknownst to her family, Lila was giving herself the present she wanted most: a month’s vacation. She was going to pamper her body, feast her eyes and soothe her soul while Ken and the boys realized just how much they took her for granted.
But Lila hadn’t bargained on Ken’s reaction to her domestic rebellion—and on a side of him that she hadn’t known existed.
Nor had she bargained on the sweetness and wonder of a post-summer romance.
Wrong man…wrong time! An amulet sends Jana back six years… into deadly danger! Impulsively, she wishes for a second chance, before she met the rogue she impulsively married. To her shock, it works— and lands her in the arms of the same man, who’s using another name and involved in a scheme that might get them both killed.. Although she knows him intimately, he has no idea who she is. They have to learn about each other—fast—while staying alive. If they can!
2 1/2 stars
Rating: 2.5 out of 5.
The cover for One Husband Too Many looks a bit off, with the heroine posed as a seemingly shell-shocked bride marrying two Martina Navratilovas. Definitely a unique choice for a Harlequin cover.
As for the story? Well this book was written as if it were one of those rom-coms you’d watch on a Sunday afternoon while folding laundry.
Jana Edwards is fed up with her marriage to Drake, who is never around and always looking for the next big score. She asks for a divorce from the love of her life but appears to take it in stride. Not even a tear is shed over her broken marriage. Doesn’t the author know that divorce is one of the most stressful things that can happen to a person right up there with the death of a loved one, loss of employment, and moving? Moving! (I know I cried when I moved last time. All that packing and unpacking is traumatic.)
Well, no time for sentimentality here in this tale of a woman propelled back in time thanks to a magical necklace so that she can get a second chance and meet the true love of her life. Who turns out to be…the man she married in the first place.
This book seems to have been with Hollywood in mind. From the evil British villain named Sydney Q. Reddin to the caricature of a Southern yokel in denim coveralls and a straw hat to the hero riding in on a horse so he can rescue the heroine from a blazing fire, this book is filled with movie cliches. It’s a silly mess.
Final Analysis of One Husband Too Many
Still, it’s not without its sweetness, and I am a big softy at heart, especially when it comes to second chance romances. Throw in a cute baby, and I’ll smile. One Husband Too Many is a diverting way to pass the time. I’ll give it that.