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!
Lisa Kleypas‘ Midnight Angelis the predecessor to the only one of her novels I’ve been unable to finish, Prince of Dreams. I started Prince of Dreams, not knowing it was a sequel; the Elaine Duillo stepback cover lured me in.
I should have started with this one, which features a Max Ginsburgtip-in illustration, as this is by far the better romance.
The story opens with Lady Anastasia Kaptereva. She is in jail, sentenced to hang for a murder she did not commit. Anastasia doesn’t have any recollection of the event.
She flees Russia for exile to England, where under an assumed name, she lands employment as a governess to young Lady Emma Stokehurst.
The hero Luke, Lord Stokehurst, is unique in that he’s disabled, missing a hand, with a hook in its place. He is a widower whose wife died in a fire. And he’s vowed never to love again.
His 12-year-old daughter Emma is in need of care. Emma is the heroine inPrince of Dreams,where she is paired off with Tasia’s annoying brute of a cousin Nikolas Angelovsky. He was such an awful hero; I DNF’d that book. Unthinkable for a Kleypas, but he rubbed me the wrong way. Strange, as he’s not so terrible here in Midnight Angel.
Luke is about 15 years older than Tasia (she’s 18; he’s 34). Luke is “tortured” and domineering, not a thoughtfully sensitive but strong quasi-beta male with a cream-puff interior. The power dynamics may be off-putting to some. I didn’t mind.
When Tasia and Lucas get together, the steam factor is hot. Kleypas writes excellent love scenes, which is why the book was enjoyable.
The plot was a bit of a kitchen-sink affair, as there are many factors thrown in: the Gothic aura, amnesia, murder, a nasty other woman, and lots of drama. Plus, there are evil baddies, a tiger, and some paranormal factors. The supernatural stuff is further explored in Prince of Dreams.
Midnight Angel was good, better than its follow-up, but not anything exceptional. If you’ve read my reviews, you know where I stand on the grieving widowers trope, but it was mostly tolerable here. Mostly.
Some aspects were rushed, making my rating for this book drop a few percentage points. It’s melodramatic and cheesy at times. Then again, I don’t mind cheesy.
I liked this historical overall, but I don’t think it’s for every reader. Fans of Kleypas’ romances written in the 20th century–particularly her Hathaway and Ravenel series–probably will not have a good time as I did with Midnight Angel.
The ratings on Amazon and Goodreads are relatively low for a Kleypas romance, with a considerable number of 1 or 2-star reviews.
That didn’t sway my opinion, as I enjoy Kleypas’ 1990s to early 2000s romances more than her “modern” books.
Final Analysis of Midnight Angel
Historical romance is a broad genre and Lisa Kleypas’ is a rare author with broad genre appeal. Midnight Angel is a solid, if not stellar, romance. Tasia and Lord Stokehurst are an unlikely couple, but their story is full of passion, intrigue, and danger.
Opinions are mixed about this one, so your mileage may vary. As for me, while I won’t be returning to Midnight Angel, I am glad I read it.
Rating Report Card
A noblewoman of frail beauty and exotic mystery fakes her own death to escape the gallows. And now she must flee. In disguise and under a false identity, she finds unexpected sanctuary in the arms of a handsome and arrogant yet gallant British lord—who must defy society to keep her safe . . . and overcome a tragic past to claim her as his own.
Having read a few Connie Mason books in the past and (more or less) entertained by them, I picked up A Breath of Scandal expecting some ahistorical yet sexy, romantic fun. Sadly, except for the wallpaper Georgian background, the second book in her “Sin Trilogy” series lacked all those standard Mason elements.
Chock-full of my most hated pet peeves, I should’ve put this book down when the hero raised the ire of my inner Ron Swanson by vehemently proclaiming that smugglers were cheating the Crown and the English government out of their right to collect taxes on French wine.
Not a good sign of things to come.
The Hero and the Set Up
Julian, Earl of Mansfield, is known as the Scorpion (pet peeves number 2 and 3: English nobleman is a spy, plus an animal alias for extra lameness), and he’s posing undercover to catch the evil smuggler, the Jackal (there’s another stupid animal codename).
The Jackal tried to kill Julian years earlier but instead killed Julian’s pregnant fiancée.
Julian vowed revenge for the only woman he ever cared for (pet peeve number 4: the hero is obsessed whis ith dead lover throughout the entire book, so much so that he cannot acknowledge his feelings for the heroine).
Julian, the Spy Lord and Lara, the Gypsy Lady
A Breath of Scandal begins with Julian on a mission. His identity is exposed and he is shot by the Jackal’s men. Julian jumps off a boat and washes ashore, to be discovered by some traveling gypsies.
Mason stretches the bounds of credibility here when Julian is found by lovely Lady Lara, the illegitimate daughter of a gypsy and an English Earl, who first knew of her father’s identity when her mother died.
She showed up on her father’s doorstep at age 13. He accepted her and made her legitimate. Now she spends most of the year with her father but is allowed to spend summers with her Gypsy family before settling down with an English husband.
Other than caravans and the word “gadjo” for an outsider, it doesn’t appear as if Mason did any real research on Roma people, but as I said, this is wallpaper historical at its worst.
A Forced Marriage
Lara is drawn to the stranger and helps heal him back to health. In a twist of events, Julian and Lara are married in typical gypsy wedding fashion. (?) Lara declares Julian is her husband three times in front of men who are pursuing Julian, and Julian doesn’t deny it.
With his black hair (another pet peeve–it’s nit-picky and shallow, I know–his hair doesn’t match the reddish-brown hair on the back cover) and walnut-stained skin Julian pretends to be a gypsy while his wounds heal.
Meanwhile, he takes advantage of his marriage to Lara by banging her and banging her and banging her some more.
He doesn’t consider his marriage to Lara binding because she’s only a gypsy after all. He hides his true identity from his “wife” and is known solely as Drago. And, of course, Lara doesn’t tell him that she is the half-English daughter of an Earl.
Julian goes on and on about how he is an honorable man. What’s that saying about how a man with honor doesn’t call himself one? Well, that applies to Julian as his repeated actions belie his claims. Such a shame because I like stuffed-shirt, uptight heroes and was expecting Julian to be rigidly noble. Alas, he was just a lame-ass loser.
Scandalous Secrets Revealed in A Breath of Scandal
Eventually, Julian leaves Lara to go back to his home in England. Lara is headed there as well to enter society and find a husband. Lara’s fortune-telling grandmother predicts that she will not see Drago in England.
Of course, she does see him; not as Drago, but in his true form as Julian, Lord Mansfield. Upon realizing Lara is the daughter of an Earl, Julian’s supposed honor kicks in, and he vows to marry Lara for real. (Because gypsies don’t deserve respect even if they save your life! [That is sarcasm, in case your detector is broken.])
The Jerky Hero
Julian does all he can to convince her into matrimony. This consists of:
Compromising Lara in a carriage in a public park
Accusing her father of being the nefarious Jackal
Putting her in danger several times
Absconding with Lara to Scotland and leaving her Daddy a note
All this while having as much sex with Lara as he can and telling her he doesn’t love her, will probably never love her due to the pain of losing his fiancée.
Honorable man indeed.
The worst is when he hides in the woods like a coward while Lara and her family convince the Jackal’s henchmen that Julian isn’t there. Some hero.
Another pet peeve of mine rears its head as Lara declares emphatically that if Julian does not love her, she won’t marry him. But she’ll keep on sleeping with him, cuz he’s too irresistible!
Final Analysis of A Breath of Scandal
To be fair, the first 100 pages of A Breath of Scandal were okay. Connie Mason has an erotic way with love scenes. I was on board to give it a 3-star rating, as there was a Lindsey-like vibe that appealed to my bad taste.
Unfortunately, this was a 400-page book, and the story went in circles for the last 300 pages. There were glaring errors that were hard to ignore.
When Julian and Lara meet up with her gypsy family, Lara’s grandmother happily exclaims, “I told you that you’d meet Drago again!” No, she had said the freaking opposite!
For an Avon paperback, this was riddled with errors galore. What were the highly-paid New York editors smoking? In 2001, it was probably mass-produced BC bud.
Julian is referred to as Lord Manchester a few times… but he’s Lord Mansfield!
Plus, the anachronisms were painful to deal with.
If a story has charm, appealing characters, or an engaging WTF vibe, I can overlook bad history, but when there are none of those qualities present, then I just can’t enjoy the ride. Sorry, A Breath of Scandal.
Rating Report Card
She claimed him as her husband without even knowing his name. Now she will risk everything to keep his secret—but can she give her heart without having his love in return?
Lord Julian Thornton, Earl of Mansfield by day and secret agent of the crown by night, has sworn never to love another woman. But then a mission goes wrong, and Julian is left for dead, his only hope a seductively mysterious gypsy woman named Lara. And when she marries him under gypsy law for his own protection, Julian is too entranced with the dark beauty to deny himself the benefits of their marriage.
Yet even as he longs for their idyllic interlude to last, Julian knows his presence alone puts her very life in danger. Until he discovers Lara in the one place he never expected to see his wild gypsy enchantress…the one place where he isn’t sure he can protect her—or his own heart.
From the moment Lady Lara, half-gypsy daughter of the Earl of Stanhope, finds a wounded stranger washed up on Scotland’s rugged shore, she knows their destinies will be forever entangled. So when a band of smugglers comes looking for the dashing stranger, Lara doesn’t hesitate to claim him as her husband “Drago.”
But when her mysterious husband goes back to his own world—and its dark secrets—Lara returns to her father to take her place as his heiress…never expecting to find her Drago across the earl’s crowded ballroom. And although he still enthralls her, Lara is determined that she will never truly be his wife until he surrenders his heart as well.
This review is of Lone Star Surrender by Carol Finch, a standalone Zebra historical romance.
Part 1 of Lone Star Surrender
Lone Star Surrender starts in Texas, circa 1885. Tara Winslow, the heroine, has come southwest from St. Louis to spend the summer with her father, Terrance, a newspaper publisher. She hasn’t seen him in three years.
Tara had been living in St. Louis with her grandfather, Ryan O’Donnovan, a wealthy businessman, and her mother, Libby. Terrance and Libby are separated, in large part because of her inability (or unwillingness) to stand up to her father. Tara is also engaged, unhappily, to Joseph Rutherford, one of Ryan’s business associates.
On Tara’s first day in Texas, she witnesses a murder, and is rescued by Sloane Prescott.
She meets Sloane again at the home of her friend, Julia Russel, the daughter of Merrick Russel, Sloane’s “boss.”
Sloane works for Russel as his head wrangler at Russel’s ranch, the Diamond R. Sloane isn’t working for Russel because he needs to. He has other reasons for working there: to expose Merrick as a criminal. He was also hired by Ryan and Joseph, who are investors in the Diamond R and are concerned with illegal activities they believe Merrick is involved in.
Julia wants Tara to work with Sloane to teach him manners so Julia can invite him to a dance. Unbeknownst to Julia, Tara and Sloane have a raging attraction to each other and will become lovers.
As time goes on, Tara discovers Sloane’s secrets, they marry–after she gets into trouble–and she finds out a secret he doesn’t know.
Merrick tries to kill Tara, and nearly succeeds, but she survives. Merrick later dies trying to flee Sloane after Merrick confesses his misdeeds.
Part 2 of Lone Star Surrender
After Merrick’s death, Tara thinks she and Sloane will have a clear path to happiness. She would be wrong.
Ryan and Joseph show up in Texas and forcibly take her back to St. Louis, where Ryan plans to marry her off to Joseph.
Upon hearing of her abduction, Sloane and Terrance head for St. Louis. Sloane goes to give his report and get Tara back, and Terrance to try to reconcile with Libby. Both Sloane and Terrance succeed in their endeavors to reunite with their loves.
Although, Sloane faces some token resistance from Joseph, who shows his true colors: yellow. To put it another way, Sloane was more of a man when he was born than Joseph is now.
In the end, Tara and Sloane, with Libby and Terrance–and Ryan–decide to go to Texas. The two couples have their Happily Ever After.
When she writes under the names Carol Finch and Gina Robins, Connie Feddersen has a template she uses for her books. That template: feisty, spirited heroines, bad-boys-but-good-men heroes, and lots of humor. All of these are on display in Lone Star Surrender.
Tara and Sloane are a very well-matched couple. Their chemistry jumps off the pages and sizzles throughout the book. They are a likeable pair and the story is well-plotted and engaging. The romantic suspense element is strong, and there is a twist at the end of that part of the book.
Ms. Finch goes into her characters’ emotions and gives both of them free rein to be who they are.
I never felt as if I was reading a book; I felt like I was watching their lives in front of me, and those are the kind of books I really enjoy.
I also like the way Ms. Finch uses humor in her books. While Lone Star Surrender isn’t as funny as Beloved Betrayal–which was hilarious–there are a lot of funny moments here, especially toward the end.
Way too many romance novels have an ultra-serious tone to them. It’s a romance novel, authors! Humor is a much-underutilized feature in romance novels.
If I had to nitpick, it would be that Ms. Finch tends to be a little hero and heroine heavy in her writing. Meaning she focuses almost entirely on her main characters.
The supporting cast in her books serves two purposes: to move storylines along and to act as foils for the protagonists. I find it nice sometimes when supporting characters have scenes when the hero and heroine aren’t in them.
Ms. Finch’s love scenes focus more on the feelings of the act than the esoterics of it. There are lots of purple prose and spiritual New Age writing about the deed.
Although people draw guns in the book, no one fires them. There are several scenes of assault and battery. The violence is not graphic.
Bottom Line on The Book
Readers who like humor and romance with high-spirited heroines and strong heroes will find lots to like in Carol Finch’s Lone Star Surrender.
Rating Report Card
THE STILL OF THE NIGHT When the rugged cowboy found a gorgeous, unconscious woman and her dead companion along a Texas dirt road, he knew he had to try everything to save the unlucky lady. He spirited her off to his mountain shack, gave her a potion to deaden the pain, and slashed away her bloody bodice to expose the wound. But when the virile horseman saw only her creamy, flawless flesh, he realized the blood was not hers — and that the vulnerable female needed saving only from himself!
THE HEAT OF THE DAY When golden-haired Tara Winslow awoke in he father’s canyon retreat, she couldn’t remember how she’d gotten there. What was even more baffling were the sensual dreams, that plagued her every waking moment. As she fantasized a muscular Texas lover showing her the myriad mysteries of pleasure, the innocent adventuress realized it was too vivid to not be true! Now that she knew she’d been with the only man who could win her heart, the determined beauty vowed he’d track him down and enslave him forever with the wild rapture of her Lone Star Surrender.
Barbara Riefe’s Tempt Not This Flesh was yet another inexplicable bestseller for the gender-bending author whose real name was Alan Riefe. It’s a 1970s bodice ripper Playboy Press published that has very little romance, includes some rape, and lacks any real excitement.
One wonders how desperate readers in the 1970s were for anything interesting to happen in their “romances.”
Lorna, the heroine of Tempt Not This Flesh, definitely deserved a better book than the one she was forced to partake in. Really, with quotes like this:
“Every day, almost every hour a new problem cropped up, piled upon the other like [kindling] piling around Joan of Arc at the stake. Still, whatever had happened, whatever was to come, this Yankee was no martyr; come what may, [Lorna] was not about to be a human sacrifice on the altar of this old man’s insatiable ambition. A pawn in his game, perhaps, but only until she could turn the play around and checkmate him.”
Or this one, which shows she is much too smart for this mild turkey of a bodice ripper:
She could never love him again, what woman with pride and self-esteem and memory could? It was like being brutally raped, only to have your assaulter satisfy his lust, then turn around and propose marriage. His logic, his love-supplanted-by-hate-which-in-turn-could-be-supplanted-once-again-by-love idea was false. Absurd as far as she was concerned.
Poor Lorna only wanted to enjoy her honeymoon and make love to her husband.
That’s how the book starts, with Lorna Singleton-Stone, formerly of Hanover, New Hampshire, USA, and her husband Philip making love at an inn in Boston. But before the night is out, her husband is brutally murdered right before her eyes, and Lorna is kidnapped and set on a ship headed to a nightmare.
A nefarious Count holds Lorna held captive in the small kingdom of Savoy. He has plans for her, as a crazy king and wicked queen rule during turbulent times. Except for her hair color, Lorna looks. almost identical to Queen Caroline-Louisa. The Count forces Lorna to pose as her double. He has her head s shaved as smooth as a freshly-shat-out egg, thus cementing the frightening trauma that begins.
Many evildoers threaten Lorna with torture, terrorize her, and attempted assassination. She raped several times (really raped, no forced seductions here).
But her will is steel. She will not break. Lorna may be forced into this game of madness, but she plans to survive at all costs.
Along the way, she meets and falls for Paul, the Queen’s lover, who has a secret plan of survival himself. Twists and turns occur. Sadly, though, what started out as a promising adventure turned into a slow, painful slosh through muddy waters.
Final Analysis of Tempt Not This Flesh
You know the meme with the guy with the awesome sideburns, who rages on about “The rent being too damned high!”? In this book, “The paragraphs were too damned long!” It was full of info-dumps that bored me and caused me to skim.
A whole lot, especially past the halfway point when all I wanted was to get it over with!
By the end, my eyes couldn’t handle those page-long paragraphs on yellowed paper. Or the words in a faded size-8 old-timey serif font. (What is the name of that font, anyway? It’s not Baskerville, right? I should know this!)
Yeesh, it turns out that trying to find a great read in these old Playboy Press books is akin to dumpster diving. You hope to find an untouched 5-star gourmet meal sealed up in one of those fancy take-out aluminum-foil swans. But…
It’s possible, for sure. However, it’s a messy slog to get there. And there’s a 100% chance you’ll end up with lots of stinky crap in your hands first; if ever you do find one.
P.S. If anyone knows the name of that font/typeface that many of these old books were written in, let me know. [Somehwere from the mid-1950s to the early-1980s era. I feel like an idiot not knowing something so basic. Thanks.
Rating Report Card
Tempt Not This Flesh is a story of abduction and sexual enslavement, a story of passion unleashed and unbounded. And above all it is the story of a woman’s love, shattered like glass, then resurrected, rekindled by a dashing captain of dragoons. A love so powerful it is forged into a weapon that topples a dynasty.
The Lion’s Lady by Julie Garwood takes us to Regency Era England where we meet two firm-willed yet evenly matched partners in love. One is a lady of mystery from the former colonies raised among the Native people. The other is an English nobleman turned soldier and spy, now retiring from duty.
A disclaimer: I’m not a fan of tropes with nobility involved in espionage, especially during the Napoleonic era. It’s contrived, and spies in a romance don’t do it for me. I was never much into James Bond. So I braced myself to dislike this due to Lyon’s career. However, I was enchanted by the heroine and the chemistry between the main leads.
Plus, there’s not much official espionage, mostly the hero using his sleuthing skills to uncover the enigmatic lady’s past.
The Set-Up and the Characters
Alexander Michael Phillips, The Marquess of Lyonwood, is known to his intimates as Lyon. (What a cheesy, uber-macho name for a British nobleman–oh, it is cheesy! One thing I love about my romances is that they are ripe with the stench of Eau de Fromage.)
Lyon is a spy with an injured leg and a dashing scar. Lyon even looks like a lion (of course he does!) with his tanned skin, a mane of dark gold hair, and mysterious dark amber eyes.
The Lion’s Lady has another disliked trope of mine: the male protagonist vows never to get married again after losing his wife and child in childbirth. At least he’s not wallowing in mourning; he is bitter because his wife was unfaithful. The child was not his; the babe was his brother’s. Thus, he has serious trust issues when it comes to the fairer sex.
The novel’s prologue starts in 1797 in the Black Hills of America. A Sioux tribe travels on. Among them are two Anglo females: a woman named Merry, who has married into the tribe, and her young daughter, Christina. The people call Christina a lioness for her golden hair and blue eyes, and fierce nature.
The shaman tells his people she is headed to a great destiny. Even though she is not one of their blood, they must take great care of this lioness.
After a brief look into Lyon’s tragic background, the story begins. Each chapter begins with excerpts from Christina’s mother’s diary from 1795 to 1796, detailing her life married Christina’s abusive father, Edward.
Christina’s mother escaped her turbulent marriage, although not before stealing a treasure from her husband.
Now Christina returns to her mother’s birth land and takes England by storm. The ton calls her Princess Christina, and she is ever under the watchful eye of her aunt, Countess Patricia. Stories float around as to her “true” identity. Precisely who is this mysterious Princess Christina?
Lyon is at a ball chaperoning his sister when he sets eyes upon the most beautiful woman ever: Christina. He and his friend both appreciate her loveliness and notice her haughty demeanor. They make a bet on who can win her charms first. Then, like Cinderella, this princess makes an early disappearance.
What follows is Lyon’s chase to discover more about this lady of intrigue. The hero in pursuit is smitten from the first, although he won’t admit it. Having been betrayed by love, this wounded Lyon is not seeking marriage, just a diverting affair. Using his young sister’s admiration for Christina as an excuse, he charms his way in and out of The Princess’ social life.
Christina is on a quest to uncover the secret her mother left behind. Then she finds she must marry within weeks to inherit. She decides Lyon will make the perfect husband.
Remember, the lioness is the great hunter, not the lion!
Mysteries unfold, and danger lurks as the two get closer to each other and the truth.
Christina was a darling heroine on a quest to right past wrongs. In someone else’s hands, one could have accused her of being “annoyingly spunky.” Instead, Garwood wrote her as a girl beyond her years in wisdom.
Lyon was authoritative, not overbearingly so, and equally fascinating as his mate.
“Your eyes have turned as black as a Crow’s,” she blurted out.
He didn’t even blink over her bizarre comment. “Not this time, Christina,” he said in a furious whisper. “Compliments won’t get me off balance again, my little temptress. I swear to God, if you ever again dismiss me so casually, I’m going to––”
“Oh, it wasn’t a compliment,” Christina interrupted, letting him see her irritation. “How presumptuous of you to think it was. The Crow is our enemy.”
Final Analysis of The Lion’s Lady
The Lion’s Lady is a well-crafted, humorous adventure that fans of sensual period romances should appreciate on a pure enjoyment level. Don’t look for the reinvention of the wheel. This is just a solid love story between two great leads.
One quibble I had with The Lion’s Lady. It’s full of side characters you know are getting their own stories. I hate sequel baiting. This romance was written before every book was part of a series. Still, I wasn’t a fan.
Also annoying was that Christina’s evil aunt didn’t get her full just desserts. Garwood tends to the sweet side. I don’t know if it’s in her to create a genuinely vicious ending that would satisfy my bloodthirstiness.
Despite that, there’s much to enjoy here. I dithered over, giving this Regency romance 4 stars or 4-and-a-half. Either way, you slice it, it’s one I’ll look back on fondly.
Rating Report Card
1810. She has taken London society by storm. Christina Bennett… the ravishing beauty with the mysterious past. Rumor whispers she is a princess from a far-off kingdom on the continent. But only she holds the secret –until the night Lord Alexander Michael Phillips, Marquis of Lyonwood, steals a searching, sensuous kiss. A proud, arrogant nobleman with a pirate’s passions, he tastes the wild fire smoldering beneath Christina’s cool charm and swears to possess her before he is done…
But Lyon soon discovers that his dream of conquest will not be easily satisfied. The feisty and defiant Christina has no fear of him–or of any other man. She alone is master of her heart, mistress of her fortune. And though Lyon’s hungry caresses dizzy her senses though his fierce embrace arouses her desire… she will not surrender to his love. For if she does, she must also forsake at last her precious secret–and her promised destiny!
This review is of Traitor’s Kiss, a standalone by historical romance Terri Valentine. The plot spans over seven years, from 1784 to 1791.
The Characters and the Set-Up
In the Bahamas, Calypso Collingsworth, a young gentlewoman, is caught by her evil older brother, Evan reading–Gasp! Shudder!–a romance novel. Evan blackmails Calypso into working as a serving wench at a tavern to allow him to have a romantic assignation with the waitress Calypso is to replace for the night.
While at the tavern, Calypso is told to “warm the bed” of the patron in the room. That patron is Lord Rhys Winghusrt, Earl of Flint. Calypso discovers that she and Rhys have differing views of what “warming the bed” means, and they end up having sex.
Nine months later, Calypso is pregnant and on the verge of giving birth to the baby conceived during her encounter with Rhys. At the same time, Calypso and Evan’s mother, Cathleen is also giving birth. Sadly, Cathleen’s baby is stillborn. In rage and anger, Cathleen’s husband and Calypso and Evan’s father, Lord John Collingsworth, hatches a cruel plan. He tells Calypso that her son–who was born alive–is dead and claims the boy as his and Cathleen’s son.
The Plot Part 1
Fast forward six years. John tries to push Calypso into marriage and invites four men to his estate as potential husbands for her. Among the men is Rhys, who at that time doesn’t recognize Calypso. (He will remember later). In part because of this, Calypso tries to get revenge on Rhys. this backfires, spectacularly and she is arrested and accused of being a spy.
Rhys rescues her and in the process discovers that he is Tristan’s father. After this, Rhys takes Calypso and Tristan to Philadelphia in America where he plans to marry her.
Plus, he must stop a plot that, if not halted, could change the course of American history. For although Rhys was born in the U.K.–Wales to be exact–and is a peer of the realm, he is, by choice and heart, an American.
In Philadelphia, Calypso and Rhys marry. However, Rhys soon takes Tristan and goes to Wales, in part to introduce Tristan to his heritage. Rhys is also angered at Calypso’s intransigence over acknowledging Tristan’s maternal parentage.
The Plot Part 2
Upon hearing where they’ve gone, Calypso arranges a trip to Wales. Big mistake, as the ship’s captain she hired plans to sell her to an African harem. Calypso escapes by telling the captain that Rhys will pay a hefty ransom for her. He doesn’t have to, as the evil captain is arrested once they reach England.
Calypso, Rhys, and Tristan reunite, and she discovers who is the mastermind of the evil plot mentioned above.
Calypso and Rhys foil the plot. However, this comes at a heavy cost to both of them.
In the end, Rhys gives up his title to stay in America with Calypso and Tristan, and the family has their Happily Ever After.
Calypso and Rhys are both fairly strong characters. Calypso has to deal with emotional abuse from all the males in her life, including Rhys. Even so, she manages to come out okay.
I didn’t like Rhys at first–he was a bit of an unfeeling jerk–but grew to like him more as the book went on. I also liked that once he found out that Tristan was his son, he loved him immediately. He didn’t use him as a pawn in his relationship with Calypso much, although that does happen to an extent.
There is a noticeable lack of depth to Calypso and Rhys. Although Ms. Valentine made me believe that Calypso and Rhys loved each other, there wasn’t a lot of hot passion between them. The ending of the book could have been more exciting.
The love scenes between Calypso and Rhys are fairly tame.
Heat level: pretty lukewarm.
Two characters are killed, neither completely on-screen. No graphic violence.
Bottom Line on Traitor’s Kiss
Terri Valentine’s Zebra romance Traitor’s Kiss is a good book. It simply lacks the passion and juice to be a great book.
Loyal To His Lust There was only one way Rhys Winghurst knew of to relieve the pressure of his latest undercover assignment a romp in the hay with a beautiful lady. The red-blooded male was impressed when the innkeeper sent up the voluptuous light skirt, but when he crushed her lips and fondled her curves, his passion was unexpectedly ignited as never before! The skillful captain showed the young wench the myriad ways of pleasure and then showed her the door. But Rhys never figured that the memories of rapture would haunt him nor that he’d need that one incredible woman by his side to successfully fulfill his mission.
True To Her Heart Spirited Calypso Collingworth didn’t expect more than an aching back and injured pride during her one-night masquerade as a tavern’s serving girl. But when she was sent to “serve” the Captain in Room Nine, the innocent redhead never thought her work included unmentionable intimacies…nor that the gentleman would be the tall, dark hero of her dreams! Calypso struggled with the handsome stranger even as her silken flesh begged for his touch. Then when she suffered his callous disregard only moments after such glorious ecstasy, the hot-tempered miss vowed she’d wreak vengeance on the humiliating cad for his insincere whispers and his Traitor’s Kiss.
Tender Savage starts in Wilmington, Delaware, in June 1862. The book spans from June 1862 to September 1863 during the American Civil War.
Part One of Tender Savage
The book begins with Erica Hanson and Mark Randall kissing passionately. The night won’t end happily for either, unfortunately. Mark and Erica’s father, Lars, a physician, are going to leave the next day to join the Union army.
Erica is being sent to New Ulm, Minnesota. She is to live with Lars’ sister, Britta, and her husband, Karl Ludwig, who owns a store there. However, Erica wants to marry Mark–or at least become his lover–before leaving for war. Mark refuses. This is the source of the conflict between them.
When Erica arrives in New Ulm, she meets Viper, a half-Lakota, half-white Indian. They share kisses and are attracted to each other.
Things look bleak as Viper and his fellow Lakota will soon be at war with the white citizens of New Ulm after promises from the government fail to materialize. During the uprising, Viper kidnaps Erica. He does so for two reasons. One is to keep her from being killed, and two, because he’s hot for her. It’s not so bad, as she is also hot for him. Erica and Viper become lovers and are married in the Lakota tradition.
Soon, however, hardships emerge. Viper’s aunt, plus an evil-other woman who is in lust with him, causes problems for Erica.
Part Two of Tender Savage
An even bigger problem will soon present itself in the form of Mark. He arranges a transfer to Minnesota to find Erica and marry her. Mark arrives in Minnesota, finds Erica with Viper, and arrests him. Viper must stand trial in a military tribunal, where he is tried and convicted.
After this, Viper asks Mark to marry Erica, which Mark agrees to. Erica and Mark marry, and he is sent back to Wilmington to rejoin the Union Army. Happiness and sadness soon follow as Erica discovers she is pregnant with Viper’s child. Meanwhile, Mark is seriously injured during the war, gets blinded, and becomes an invalid who needs constant care.
Back in Minnesota, Viper’s conviction is vacated. He leaves the state heading to Delaware to find Erica. Adopting the name “Etienne Bouchard” (his French grandfather’s name), Viper finagles his way into becoming Mark’s companion, which severely irritates Erica.
Soon after “Etienne’s” arrival, Erica gives birth to a son who looks exactly like Etienne. This creates a rift between Erica and Etienne on one side and Lars and Sarah Randall–Mark’s sister–, on the other. Poor, hapless Mark doesn’t know he’s not the child’s father.
In the end, Mark conveniently passes away. Erica and Viper go back to Minnesota–to a different part of the state. Lars and Sarah marry, and both couples have their Happily Ever After.
The backdrop of Tender Savage is the Minnesota Sioux Uprising of 1862, an actual occurrence. Mrs. Conn does a fairly good job melding her fictional characters with real people and events.
On some levels, Tender Savage tries to be like Nancy Henderson (Nan) Ryan’s excellent romance, Kathleen’s Surrender. Like that book, Tender Savage takes place in part during the Civil War and features a love triangle. That, however, is where the similarities end.
Mrs. Ryan had the ability to make me, as a reader, care about her characters and feel their emotions. Mrs. Conn–although she tries–sadlyTender Savage does not.
Tender Savage is the seventh book I’ve read by Phoebe Conn. Like the other six, Tender Savage lacks both emotional depth and character development.
I also had issues with the heroine and hero. Erica checks off the basic romance heroine boxes: she’s beautiful, young, sexy, and has a great body, but… That’s it. There really is no substance to her.
Viper is worse. Mrs. Conn would have been better served to name him “Etienne Bouchard” because Viper is basically a white Indian. Although she researched the uprising, it is clear that Mrs. Conn did none about the Lakota tribe.
There is almost nothing about Viper–besides living in a teepee and eating pemmican–that would identify him as a Native American. The only depth to his character is that we learn he has French ancestry.
There is very little romantic chemistry between Erica and Viper. The beginning of their relationship in no way indicates love; they are in lust with each other. Although Mrs. Conn tries at the end, she falls well short of creating the type of characters I can genuinely care about.
Also, I didn’t particularly appreciate that after he gained access to the Hanson home, Viper spent a great deal of time trying to have sex with Erica even though she was married to Mark.
I also didn’t buy the “Erica and Mark didn’t consummate their marriage; therefore, they weren’t legally married, and Viper’s actions were okay” excuse at the end of the book, either.
I will give Mrs. Conn credit for writing slightly better love scenes here than in her previous books, but that is damning with very faint praise.
Most of the violence takes place “off-screen.” However, there are “on-screen” scenes of assault and battery, and a slashing occurs.
Bottom Line On Tender Savage
There was the foundation for a good book in Tender Savage.
Unfortunately, Mrs. Conn was not the author to mine the gold that might have been there. Instead, the book ends up in “pewter territory.”
Rating Report Card
TOO FAST TO STOP When innocent Erica Hansen fled to Minnesota to escape the Civil War’s horrors, she had no idea she was stepping right into the middle of an Indian uprising. And until a painted, whooping brave swept her onto his stallion, she never guessed how unsafe her new home really was. The curvaceous blonde struggled against her captor’s grip, but the farther they rode from civilization, the wilder her response to him became. The passionate beauty knew she should bite, scratch and kick the warrior, but before she could think of the consequences, Erica began to caress, kiss and embrace him!
TOO FAR TO RETURN From the moment he beheld the golden-haired paleface, the Sioux fighter named Viper swore she’d never meet the white captives’ fate of torture and degradation. This was a woman created for the most ecstatic kinds of lovemaking … and the virile male would make sure he’d be the one to show her the myriad ways to enjoy pleasure. He promised himself he’d release her when the furor of the battle died down. But once the jet-haired Sioux trapped her in his arms, he realized a lifetime was too short to savor her ivory skin, to exult in her lavender scent, to take her time and again as her Tender Savage.
Passion’s Paradise by Sonya T. Pelton is a wonderfully terrible book published by Zebra in its early years. The cover warns you; it’s dark and dreary, done in deep blues and white, with the wrong hair color for the hero and a ship about to sink in the ocean that shouts: “Disaster looms ahead!”
I got this book in one of those e-bay lots, it was a freebie that the seller was perhaps too embarrassed to mention and only too glad to get rid of, with no back cover (no worries, I printed out the book blurb and taped it to the back) and garnished with red stamps from Arlene’s Book House & Paperback Exchange in Sweetwater, Texas. Now it lay in my Yankee hands, ready to thrill me with its awfulness.
Lying together upon the crest, their two profiles met, silhouetted as one against the clouds’ pink lattice. Here the sun shone softly, and the thrushes and cardinals and mockingbirds cooed love songs sang of twilight nigh, and the nascent magnolia flowers bloomed fragrantly…
The Plot of Passion’s Paradise
Captain Ty, or Tyrone, the supposed hero of Passion’s Paradise is a pirate, a slaver, a whoremonger, a politician–but I repeat myself.
Tyrone captures the ship that bears Angel Sherwood and her family from England to America. His Pa told him there was a special package on board and Ty was to take it. Ty and Pa had an agreement that Ty would marry when Pa found a woman worthy of his son and–who the hell cares, is the plot important? Not to the author, so you shouldn’t care either! Random events occur in the book, story-lines are dropped and nothing makes sense.
There is a mysterious murder… Is Ty the killer? Who knows? Who cares?
There is another murder. Is Ty the killer? Well, this time yes, but again, who cares?
Angel runs away from Tyrone about four times in a row but keeps getting caught. The final time she flees, she leaves her severely mentally-unbalanced mother behind and promises to retrieve her. Of course, the only person Angel can trust to care for Mama is Tyrone’s evil ex-mistress. Mama goes missing. A year passes by, and Angel is concerned, but she’s had so much on her mind that she hasn’t had time to search.
You see Ty’s penis keeps taunting her in those tight pants he wears and a girl can’t think straight with that anteater staring at her.
Stupid Big Misunderstandings & Clichés Abound
This book is filled with stupid “big misunderstandings” and really random, unnecessary secrets. For 200 pages the big mystery of the book is Angel’s first name. There’s no reason for her to hide it. I think it’s just so the author could have Tyrone call the heroine “My mysterious Angel” without him knowing that was really her name. Lame.
Ty’s last name is a secret. Who is Ty’s father? Is Tyrone married? What is the secret of Cresthaven plantation? Where did Angel’s hymen go if she really was a virgin? (It blew up in the fire. Really, it did.)
Don’t expect any PC, this book is raw. A Chinese prostitute does her best at a Mickey Rooney Breakfast at Tiffany’s impression. Ty has slaves and whips them bloody. He takes what he wants from Angel (her love pudding) and doesn’t ask permission.
But oh, he’s a misunderstood devil. There’s depth to Capt. Ty, and a heart that yearns for love. You see he had a rough childhood because his mother was a slut, or something like that.
Final Analysis of Passion’s Paradise
Passion’s Paradise is a cliché-ridden calamity. Even so, it was oddly entertaining, like a terrible movie you watch just to shout inanities at the screen. Plus, I can’t hate a book with such craptastic dialogue as:
Ellen (a prostitute): “You know I used to enjoy all kinds of men before Captain Ty came along. That tawny-haired devil made me forget them all, with his lean body and bulging crotch! Shees! I’ve bedded down with more men than you could ever hope to meet in your lifetime.”
Angel: “But not with Captain Ty?”
Ellen: “Bitch. Take your clothes off!”
Apparently, this book was a multi-million seller putting Zebra on the map. And it didn’t even have a pretty cover!
What a mess. 3 itty-bitty stars for being so gloriously, wonderfully entertaining.
As the beautiful, fair-haired Angel Sherwood sailed from England to Louisiana, she sensed that her destiny flowed with the rough waves of the ocean. Frightened by the harsh sea, Angel prayed that perhaps, just perhaps, she would find happiness and romance in her new home.
But Angel’s fate changed course when she was kidnapped by the cruel, yet captivating pirate, Captain Ty. And even though her future was suddenly in the balance, Angel was strangely warmed by his manly touch. Her strong captor stirred in her a delcious pleasure, a burning fire that made her whole body tingle with precious thrills.
Captain Ty’s black heart was softened, too by her golden presence; she was an untouched treasure, full of charm, wit and innocense — a jewel that he feverishly desired. But rather than taint his savage and foreboding name, he kept his feelings hidden. First he had to be sure that her heart belonged to him–and then he would send her to PASSION’S PARADISE!
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…
Lately, I’ve been trying to write as many reviews as I can, before I forget what I read. Even though I read this romance in the early Noughties, Flora Kidd’s Beloved Deceiver still sticks out in my mind for one big reason. It’s the only Harlequin/Mills-and-Boon I’ve read to feature a hero from the Dominican Republic, which is my parents’ birth country.
There have been plenty of Hispanic, Latino, and Latin-American-born heroes in the HP line, but up until this one I’d never encountered a Dominican and a blond one, to boot! That, for me, was like hitting the romance lottery jackpot.
Our heroine, Glenda, is an independent divorcee whose first marriage ended when her husband decided fidelity was too taxing on him. Glenda’s a magazine writer from Canada visiting the Dominican Republic on holiday. Her former college classmate, Cesar Estrada, is now a bestselling author and Glenda seeks him out for an interview.
Upon meeting Cesar again, Glenda notices some changes, mainly her attraction to him. Back in Montreal, they’d just been friends, however, this tanned, tropical hunk makes her motor run at super high RPMs!
Glenda and Cesar get it on, but all is not what it seems as Cesar appears to be hiding something about himself. What is it about his past that he’s keeping a secret? Is Cesar really the man she used to know? Who is this Rafael character she keeps hearing about? And worst, could there be another woman with whom Cesar is involved?
So many questions for Glenda, but she’s a slave to her passions.
The zig-zaggy trail of breadcrumbs that Flora Kidd gives us leads to new revelations and some slight HP angst.
Final Analysis of Beloved Deceiver
To be completely honest, for me this was a good Harlequin Presents that made the time pass quickly and leisurely even though it wasn’t a super-wrecky, extra-memorable experience. I’ve read a handful of Flora Kidd romances and have found them to be just fine to above average, with the exception being Stay Through the Night, which was excellent.
Here, it was the hero’s unique background that ticked the right boxes for me.
Plus, I pictured him looking like Carlos de la Mota, a Dominican-born telenovela actor who’s an absolute dream!
She was a magazine writer, he was a famous novelist
Yet eight years ago Glenda Thompson and Cesar Estrada had known each other as students at university in Montreal.
Now, trying to interview him in his own country, the Dominican Republic, Glenda is puzzled by the mystery surrounding him. Why is he referred to as ”Rafael” and why doesn’t he want to be interviewed. Is he trying to hide something?
When they do meet again, in spite of unsuccessful marriages and the intervening years, they cannot conceal their feelings for each other.
This review is of Nebraska Fire by Lauren Wilde, a Zebra Lovegram romance.
The book starts with Elizabeth “Liza” Cameron, looking back on how she came west.
Backstory: Liza is an English immigrant, who sailed from England after her parents passed. Her brother, Dan, died on the trip to New York. Liza arrives in New York and meets a woman, Anne Garrett, and becomes friends with her. Anne accepted a job as a governess for the nephew of Alex Cameron, a rancher from Nebraska. Anne died in an accident. Before passing, she asked Liza to take her place.
Thus, as the book begins, Liza finds herself in Nebraska, where she meets Alex, the hero of the book.
Alex is NOT happy to see Liza, for several reasons. One, she’s younger than he expected. Two, he questions her qualifications to be a governess to his four-year-old nephew, Andy. And three, and most importantly, he’s attracted to her. Liza is also attracted to Alex).
Peril soon finds Liza as she is abducted by Kiowa Indians. Alex rescues her and they become lovers. We also learn more about Alex’s history (his parents are deceased. His brother Rob, a ne’er do well, is also deceased. Rob’s wife, Marilee, Andy’s mother, left two years ago).
As they spend more time together, Liza and Alex fall in love. However, he doesn’t tell her that he loves her; this inability to say those three words will cause a rift between them. Liza leaves Alex, but this turns out to be a mistake as she is accosted by one of his former hands, who tries to rape and kill her.
Alex had fired the man after an earlier rape attempt against Liza and beat the man senselessly.
Liza is taken in by Rita, the owner of a brothel, and Liza discovers she is pregnant with Alex’s child. Liza will later give birth to a son.
Alex finds Liza, he tells her he loves her and their son, and they resolve their issues. There had been misconceptions to overcome. Alex left Liza a note stating that he was going to find someone to marry them and that he loved her. She didn’t see the note and thought he was leaving her. It was all a misunderstanding and lack of communication.
Alex and Liza marry and have their Happily Ever After.
Ms. Wilde is a very good atmospheric author; she made me feel as though I was watching her characters’ lives as opposed to simply reading a book. Liza and Alex are both well-developed characters; Liza is very likable.
Alex is a bit all over the place. He starts as an obnoxious boor, becomes nice at times, then is obnoxious again and is nice toward the end; these mood swings are jarring and not explained at all. It makes him a somewhat unlikeable character.
A few love scenes are short and rather rudimentary, a few are more expansive. Ms. Wilde is a practitioner of what I call “soft erotica”. Her writing wouldn’t be called erotica today, but for a mainstream mass-market romance novel, she writes some of her love scenes with enough pepper in the soup to be good.
Most of the violence takes place “off-screen”. However, there are scenes of assault, attempted rape, and battery. The violence is not graphic.
Bottom Line on Nebraska Fire
Nebraska Fire is not a flawless book, but it is good enough to warrant a 4-star grade. If Alex were a nicer, better hero, it might have crept into the 5-star range.
What had she done? And why had she ever thought it would work? Taking her best friend’s place as a tutor to Alex Cameron’s nephew had not been a good idea, not at all. And now, staring into the virile rancher’s smoldering steel-gray eyes proved Lisa Wentworth was right. He didn’t want her on his ranch, caring for the young boy. He wanted her gone and out of his coal-black hair. Yet when he held her against his strong muscular chest, his hands caressing her soft, full curves, she felt his hard, lean body tremble, and his warm lips on hers, telling her not to listen to his foolish words . . . but only to the wild beating of his heart that begged her never to leave him . . .
Alex Cameron was absolutely shocked when he found a beautiful, delicate creature standing in the middle of the godforsaken prairie. And beautiful she was with hair that shone like the sun, dark violet eyes that blazed with passion, and a wide, sensuous mouth that was made for kissing. She was a lady, all right. First-class stuff. So what was she doing here? Was she running from the law? Or an irate husband? No matter. Lady or not, she spelled trouble, and he was sending her packing as soon as he could take her luscious body in his arms and lose himself in her sweet Nebraska Fire.
Arguably it is her most popular book. After 30 years, it is still in print and read by many new-to-the-romance-genre readers.
Johanna Lindsey Mania
I first read Gentle Rogue eons ago, when Johanna Lindsey was the greatest writer on earth. At 12 years old, what did I know?
I recall anxiously walking to Woolworth’s daily in November 1990, freaking out for her latest release. Boy, did I annoy the clerks by repeatedly asking when it was coming in!
The day I saw the clerk stocking the shelves, I grabbed the first book from the top of the box, not caring that it had a tiny slit on the cover.
I was a bit disheartened because for a Duillo–Fabio–Lindsey outing, save for Georgina’s lovely rose-trimmed gown, to me, it was lackluster. With its drab green tones and bird-bats flying in front of a huge moon, I was less than impressed.
When I saw Lindsey’s next book, Once a Princess, I would be even more disappointed in the cover design. No more Fabio (although he’d make a comeback for a few more Lindseys). Plus, Once a Princess had a stepback with a floral font on the front. I actually preferred that weird, pointed sci-fi-looking type.
The “old” Duillo-Lindsey era (1987 to 1990) was over with Gentle Rogue.
Gentle Rogue starts hilariously. Georgina Anderson is in a grungy inn in a seedy part of London. She attempts to kill a cockroach on the wall by propelling food at it, fails, but doesn’t care so long as it’s out of sight.
As usual with a Lindsey book, things get ridiculous, so check your brain at the door. Just enjoy the ride.
Stuck in England after secretly traveling there to search for her long-lost love who’d abandoned her years before, the American Georgina and her companion, Mac, lack both funds connections. They are desperately looking for a way back home.
Mac signs them up to work their way home. Georgina disguises herself as a boy to obtain passage on The Maiden Anne.
Little does she know that the ship’s captain already knows she’s a female because: #1 He’s James Malory, so he has eyes.
And #2, he’d met her before at a tavern when she was dressed in her masculine garments. Thinking she was someone else, he picked her up, only to cop a feel of her boobies.
Hardly someone the so-called “connoisseur of women” would forget.
James has the time of his life as he slowly seduces Georgina–or George, as he lovingly calls her.
But the tables are turned on this love-’em-and-leave-’em rake as Georgina leaves him when they land in the Caribbean. One of her sea-faring brothers is there at the port and whisks her away to Connecticut.
Parts of this book run parallel to its precursor, Tender Rebel (which, for me, was so-so due to a dull-as-dishwater heroine). There is some word-for-word repetition of previous scenes (perhaps to pad the word count).
Unlike its predecessor, the heroine in Gentle Rogue is a delight. All the characters are a blast: James, Georgina, James’ droll and equally rakish brother Anthony, and best of all, Georgina’s five belligerent older brothers.
In a memorable scene, they all take turns beating James into a pulp before holding him and his crew prisoners.
Lindsey and her readers must have loved George’s brothers as I did. Three of the Anderson men feature as heroes in subsequent books of their own.
Final Analysis of Gentle Rogue
The title of the book is quite accurate. The hard-muscled ex-pirate James Malory is an unrepentant rogue, taking advantage of Georgina. He thoroughly disgraces her in front of her brothers, so they’re forced to wed.
James is a droll charmer, witty, and arrogant. The perfect hero.
My favorite Anderson brother was Warren. His book, The Magic of You, is my second favorite in the Malory-Anderson series. There, he meets his match with the much younger and very persistent Amy Malory.
Those two romances are the high points for me in the Malory-Anderson series, although Gentle Rogue is a wee better.
I enjoyed Gentle Rogue very much when I first read it.
I’ve grown to love it much more now that I picture James looking like another blond, green-eyed Englishman: a young Sean Bean!
Nothing against Fabio, he’s a legend, but he can’t be the hero of every romance from ’87 to ’95!
If you haven’t read Gentle Rogue, do yourself a favor and pick this one up. It’s a romance classic.
Rating Report Card
Heartsick and desperate to return home to America, Georgina Anderson boards the Maiden Anne disguised as a cabin boy, never dreaming she’ll be forced into intimate servitude at the whim of the ship’s irrepressible captain, James Mallory.
The black sheep of a proud and tempestuous family, the handsome ex-pirate once swore no woman alive could entice him into matrimony. But on the high seas his resolve will be weakened by an unrestrained passion and by the high-spirited beauty whose love of freedom and adventure rivals his own.
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 …
There are Christmas tales that inspire, ones that make us cry, and others that make us laugh with the joy of being alive. The Harlequin Temptation romance, Too Many Husbands by Elise Title, falls into the latter category. It’s a zany romp of a romance that could have been an old-fashioned screwball comedy on the live screen.
What does a woman do when she has not one, nor even two, but three husbands coming over for Christmas?
No, this is not a remake of the 1940 romantic comedy of the same name starring Fred MacMurray and Jean Arthur. Nor is it related to the similarly-styled film My Favorite Wife, which starred Cary Grant and Irene Dunne. Even so, you can see their influences, as Too Many Husbands is as silly and enjoyable as those films.
The Wacky Plot
At only 28, Casey Croyden’s a hotshot in the commercial real estate market. Due to her laser-beam focus on business, she has one failed marriage behind her. When the largest Japanese hotel chain owner decides to set his sights on the US market, Casey is just the one to make the deal.
The only impediment is that Toho, the owner of the hotel chains, is a “traditional” man. This means he might not accept entering into a deal spearheaded by a single woman whose focus is solely on her career. So Casey concocts a plan to have Toho and his wife Akiko stay with her in a huge rented house in a cozy New England setting with Casey and her husband. That is, an actor hired to play her husband.
Enter John Gallagher. He’s Casey’s new next-door neighbor. His unexpected arrival on her doorstep has Casey mistaking him for the actor she hired. She plants a big kiss on him, to John’s bewilderment, and acts as if they’re madly in love. John, to his benefit, plays along.
It Gets Even Wackier
Things take a wacky turn when David, the real actor, shows up. Caught in a trap of her own making, what’s Casey to do? What would any good actor do? Improvise! David is relegated to Casey’s brother, who’s also spending Christmas with them.
Remember, though, this is called Too Many Husbands, not One Husband Too Many. Who else turns up? Casey’s ex-husband, Wes. Casey and her ex aren’t on bad terms, but his appearance is bound to cause confusion. As a result, he’s given the role of a family friend.
To make the situation even more insane, John’s ex-wife, Brenda, appears. An ex-wife would muddy the waters more, so she’s presented as Casey’s best friend.
If you’re counting, that’s three husbands and two wives, not including Toho & Akiko. That makes for a winning combination as a full house beats out a three-of-a-kind hand!
It’s a full house indeed when Casey’s PA drops by to check on how the merriment is progressing. She’s shocked to find her normally cool-headed boss all distressed. What’s with this Christmas tomfoolery?
Somehow Casey should be out of her mind trying to broker a deal with Toho, all while trying to keep up appearances. John is her solid rock, and she can’t help but rely upon and be attracted to him. The pair are forced to share rooms and matching robes. “The Walls of Jericho” (a reference to the famous 1930’s comedic romance It Happened One Night) are raised to keep things platonic.
John is even described as looking like Clark Gable. (Although he looks nothing like him on the cover!) John remains a man of mystery, as we never learn much about him. We do know that he has no feelings for Brenda, their divorce was amicable, and he only has eyes for Casey.
Final Analysis of Too Many Husbands
Too Many Husbands is a hilarious romance. Nothing is meant to be taken seriously except the love story. As said, this book is a screwball comedy in the style of films from the 1930s and 1940s.
Have you ever seen the Frasier episode “The Two Mrs. Cranes,” where Daphne, wanting to fend off an old boyfriend, pretends to be married to Niles? Then Roz shows up and pretends to be Nile’s wife, “Maris,” who is “married” to Frasier. And the cop father pretends to be an astronaut? That was one of the funniest moments on television, and that’s what this book is like. One bit of slapstick silliness followed by another!
An epilogue wrapping up this story would have been the perfect bow to add to this gift of a Christmas romance. There are some loose ends, so it’s not perfection. But whether it’s Christmas or any time of year, Too Many Husbands is an exceptional, sidesplitting tale that will keep you smiling for a long time.
Rating Report Card
Naughty and Nice…
All Casey Croyden wanted for Christmas was a husband. Not a permanent one – just a man to play the part and help her impress the traditional Japanese businessman she was entertaining over the holidays. Sounded simple enough. Hire one from Actor’s Equity.
When John Gallagher arrived on her doorstep, the attraction between them was no act. And the debonair Mr Gallagher was no actor! Casey didn’t have the faintest idea who he was, but she had no time to trifle over details. Especially over the other minor glitch in her plan…what to do with him when the lights went out!
Wendy Brown is a not-yet-21-year-old Englishwoman who’s been given the worst news imaginable. She has an inoperable brain tumor and will die in a few months. Rather than spend her last days wallowing in despair, Wendy decides to make the best of her lot. Alone in the world, she sells her family home. She buys a ticket for the maiden voyage of a glamorous cruise ship that’s set to sail the world.
Thus begins Anne Hampson’s Song of the Waves, a vintage Harlequin Presents written in 1976, a year before I was born.
Even for a book so ancient (ha-ha), this romance comes off old-fashioned. It never delves deeper than a few kisses and severely-restrained passion. Anne Hampson’s books might have been among the first published for the Harlequin Presents line, but that sort of antiquated mindset would later cause the publishers to break ties with her in favor of more “modern” minded authors, such as Charlotte Lamb.
A Love That Saves a Life
Introduced into this “love boat” romance is a vast field of characters, couples, and individuals, who will get to know Wendy as she charms her way aboard the ship. Rumors abound that a man-eater movie star is onboard traveling incognito as an innocent naif. One shipmate who believes the gossip is Garth Rivers, the book’s hero.
Unfortunately, Garth puts 1 and 1 together and gets 11, as he thinks our Wendy darling is said actress. So Garth treats her with contempt at first. As he gets more familiar with Wendy, Garth realizes that her sweet demeanor is genuine, and he has trouble synthesizing his preconceptions with reality.
Wendy, for her part, quickly realizes her heart belongs to Garth. However, she hides the truth from him, as she would rather he think her a sophisticated woman of mystery, instead of a girl with a fatal disease.
Wendy faces her last days with aplomb, not letting her impending doom stop her from enjoying life. She makes the best of her situation, making friends, flirting lightly with would-be suitors, and taking awe of her new surroundings whenever the ship enters port.
Despite the misunderstandings due to lack of communication, our main characters do fall in love. But can love be enough to stop the Grim Reaper’s arrival?
Not only is Garth the only man Wendy’s ever loved, but he’s also the only person who can save her. For Garth–serendipitously enough–is a brain surgeon. Only he can perform the complicated, live-sustaining operation on the woman with whom he wants to spend the rest of his life.
Final Analysis ofSong of the Waves
Song of the Waves is a cozy romance that’s bound to tug at your heartstrings. Wendy is a delightful heroine. While the plot is set up as a tearjerker love story, fortunately, this is a romance novel. Any tears of sadness are guaranteed to turn into tears of joy with the uplifting conclusion.
I’ve read about half of the romances Deana James published and I must say Crimson Obsession is probably my least favorite of her works. It’s not a terrible romance, not at all. It simply pales in comparison to her other books. Due to my high expectations of James’ writing, Crimson Obsession was a bit of a disappointment, although if penned by another author, I daresay I might not have been so critical.
The Revenge Based Plot
It’s Victorian-era England and Cassandra MacDaermond is on a mission of revenge. She’s a beautiful red-haired orphan left penniless. Her father died after losing the family fortune by gambling. Cassandra blames Edward Sandron, owner of a gaming hall, for this. She’s determined to see Sandron pay for taking advantage of an elderly man. Cassandra disguises herself as an old, plump maid and gains employment in Sandron’s household.
Edward Sandron not only runs a gambling establishment, but he also is the head of a sex cult. He calls himself Baal and wears funky devil costumes. If that sounds to you like something you’d read in an Anne Stuart romance, that’s what I thought as well.
Stuart takes her work seriously, heavy on the angst, and without much humor. Her heroes are akin to caped, mustachio-twirling villains. They are forever telling the heroines how much they despise them and what wicked ruin they will bring upon the hapless females.
Thankfully, James doesn’t take this silliness anywhere as seriously as Stuart would. Edward Sandron runs his club with a sense of the ridiculous. He’s just running this gig as a side hustle to make money. Gambling and debauched orgies aren’t really his thing. He also writes salacious pornographic works to rake in the pounds. What Edward really wants to be is a respectable writer in the style of Charles Dickens.
Crimson Obsession shares another similarity with Anne Stuart’s books, as this contains a secondary romance, as Stuart’s works often do. A prostitute named Sally has her eyes on Sandron. However, Sandron’s editor, a porn peddler named Nash, has eyes on Sally. Their tug-and-pull love story is quite entertaining and unique.
Then there’s a hypocritical, morally-priggish OTT villain who makes for more ludicrous antics.
Cassandra is a seemingly plucky heroine, at first. She has a plan, but it doesn’t actually amount to much. And, of course, Edward eventually discovers his housemaid is not who she appeared to be. Once he discovers her true identity, Edward’s intent on proving he’s not the culprit Cassandra thinks he is. And besides, she’s attracted to him, and he’s attracted to her.
Final Analysis of Crimson Obsession
Cassandra and Edward’s romance was fine, but I thought the parallel romance between Nash and Sally was hot. They were a far more exciting couple than the central pair.
I prefer James’s medievals and American-set romances to her Victorian and Regencies, as they’re more grand-scale and action-packed. Overall, this is better than the average romance, but not one of James’ best books.
Kiss of the Night Wind opens with the heroine of the book, Carrie Sue Stover, trying to outrun her past Carrie Sue’s brother, Darby, is the leader of an outlaw gang, which she also ran with.
Tired of looking over her shoulder and worrying about being arrested, jailed, or worse, Carrie Sue decides to take on the persona of Carolyn Sarah Starns, a schoolteacher on her way to Tucson, Arizona.
The real Carolyn was killed in an accident caused by the Stover gang attacking the stagecoach she was on.
As Carrie Sue makes her way to Arizona, the stagecoach she’s on is attacked. Saving her is T.J. Rogue, the hero of the book, who is also going to Arizona. His reasons, however, are different than Carrie Sue’s.
Carrie Sue arrives in Tucson and soon finds herself having to fend off Martin Ferris, a wealthy, lecherous businessman who believes the new schoolmarm owes him more than gratitude. Before she can begin teaching, however, Carrie Sue’s past catches up with her, and she and T.J. are on the run. They also become lovers.
As the book goes along, we learn a great deal about both Carrie Sue and T.J.’s pasts, both of which are filled with tragedy. We also learn that they have a common enemy, evil rancher Quade Harding.
T.J. and Carrie Sue leave Arizona after wanted posters of her emerge. They are pursued by Ferris, who is later killed by T.J. As they make their way to Texas, Carrie Sue becomes suspicious of T.J.; especially since he asks lots of questions about Darby.
Carrie Sue reunites with Darby and discovers that a copycat gang, led by the villain she and Darby are trying to defeat, is committing crimes claiming to be the Stover gang. That gang is led by the man the Stover siblings have been trying to defeat for years.
Carries Sue tries to get Darby to go straight. The efforts fail, and when Darby and most of his gang are captured, Carrie Sue is shot and seriously wounded. After Carrie Sue’s wounding, T.J. fakes her death and plans to take her to Montana and marry her to start a new life.
In the end, the plans change. Carrie Sue and T.J. marry, decide to go to Colorado instead-the reasons are germane to the plot, so I won’t reveal them- and have their Happily Ever After.
Mrs. Taylor has written a book with a strong hero and heroine in T.J. and Carrie Sue, both of whom are well-developed characters. Mrs. Taylor is also a great atmospheric writer; she puts me into her situations with her characters, as opposed to making me feel that I’m simply reading about them.
While Mrs. Taylor is a great situational writer, at times during this book, I felt like she was writing to a word count, as the descriptions went on and on and on.
The bigger issue for me was the fact that there are A LOT of similarities between Kiss of the Night Wind and the book that preceded it, Passions Wild and Free. To wit:
The heroines both have unisex names; in Passions Wild and Free, the heroine’s name was Randee; in Kiss of the NightWind, it’s Carrie Sue.
The heroines believe the heroes–Marshall Logan Jr. in Passions Wild and Free, T.J. Rogue in Kiss of the Night Wind–are simply gunslingers. They’re not. Their childhood backgrounds are slightly different, but their adult lives are very similar to each other.
Both Randee and Carrie Sue were chased from their lives by rich, licentious males who want to possess them, only to find more trouble upon running. Both want revenge against their tormentors, but neither directly gets their revenge.
It is not realistic to expect any artistically inclined person not to ever repeat themselves. Doing it in the very next work you do, however, is not a good look.
I also wasn’t in love with Carrie Sue’s claim that she and Darby were “forced” to become criminals. This is completely a lie. Yes, a lot of bad things happened to the Stover siblings, but they were NOT “forced” into criminal behavior. They CHOSE to become lawbreakers. Claiming noble reasons does not absolve someone from criminal responsibility.
Multiple love scenes between Carrie Sue and T.J. Like all of Mrs. Taylor’s books, the love scenes are more about the feelings engendered during the act rather than the esoterics of the act.
Some “on-screen” shootings, but most of the violence takes place “off-screen”. “Kiss of the Night Wind” is not a violent book.
Kiss of the Night Wind is a good book but has too many issues to be great.
Secret Fire was the second Johanna Lindsey romance I read. It cemented her works among my favorites. Published in 1987, this book was written during Lindsey’s peak years of output.
The cover is another Elaine Duillo gem, this time featuring white, cream, and brown hues, appropriate for the wintery Russian setting. There’s also a blond male cover model whom I’ve been searching for for years. Forget Fabio and his long-haired colleagues; it’s this guy I have often imagined as the hero of many love stories I’ve read. He’s a perfect model for the ultra-gorgeous hero of Secret Fire, Dimitri.
Dimitri is a half-Russian, half-English Prince who is in England to visit family and smooth over a scandal his sister has gotten into by engaging in an affair with a married man. The uber-sexual Dimitri doesn’t mind his sisters’ affairs, only that she’s so flagrant about them. So he decides to bring her back to Russia on his ship and perhaps find a dutiful spouse for her.
Meanwhile, Lady Katherine St. John, the eldest daughter of an Earl, is enraged to find that her sister has decided to run off and elope. Although Katherine has a father and brother, it’s upon her dainty shoulders that familial responsibilities lie. She concocts a plan to exchange garments with a maid and search the London streets for her sister.
As she’s walking about, Dimitri’s carriage is stuck in traffic, and he happens to see Katherine. Although she’s short and rather plain with dull brown hair, there’s something about her that appeals to Dimitri. A prince who’s gotten anything and everything he’s ever wanted with a snap of his fingers, Dimitri sends a servant off to procure the woman for a night of passion. Katherine dismisses the man, but he won’t take no for an answer. Before Katherine knows what’s happening, she’s kidnapped and finds herself trapped in strange quarters. Her adamant refusals prompt Dimitri’s servant to ply her with”Spanish Fly” to make her willing for the prince’s touch.
When Dimitri finds out what’s been done, he’s disgusted at first. He was just looking for a quick tryst, not a sex marathon. Dimitri figures he’ll have to let his men have a go with her, as Spanish Fly makes a woman insatiable. Then he enters the room, and those thoughts go out the window. For while Katherine might not be the most beautiful woman in the world, she certainly is one of the most sensual visions he’s ever witnessed, naked on the bed and writhing in desire.
And so begins Secret Fire, with a night of pure ecstasy for both Katherine and Dimitri.
The Prince in Pursuit
However, the next day Katherine is back to her old self and threatens Dimitri’s servants with arrest, as she is the daughter of an Earl. No one believes her, of course. What would an Earl’s daughter have been doing roaming the London docks alone and wearing the clothes of a servant? Still, to prevent any scandal, his servant has the brilliant idea of locking Katherine in a chest and taking her with them to Russia.
When Katherine finds herself at sea, she demands to be returned. Dimitri had not expected to find her aboard the ship but is pleased to see her. Despite his hundreds of past amours, their night together was one of the best in memory, and the lady had been a virgin, to boot!
Dimitri pursues Katherine with an ardor he hadn’t imagined possible. Of course, Katherine rebuffs him at every turn. She’s no common trull but a lady deserving of respect. Dimitri ignores Katherine’s claims of nobility, mostly because he wants to believe that his Katya can be easily had. He knows he has to marry a noble Russian woman to produce an heir for his line, but Katya can be his mistress in the meantime.
Over the seas and rivers, through Europe, and into Russia, Dimitri tries what he can to seduce her back into his arms.
But Katherine has a will made of steel. Even though she wants him just as much as he wants her.
[He] wanted her. Incredible fantasy. This fairy-tale prince, this golden god wanted her. Her. It boggled the mind. It defied reason. And she said no. Stupid ninny!
Final Analysis of Secret Fire
I love Katherine. Like Georgina Anderson from Lindsey’s Gentle Rogue, she has a habit of talking to herself, a trait I share, to my husband’s annoyance. Katherine’s fiercely proud, stubborn, and resilient. She’s not my favorite Lindsey heroine, but she is up there with the best. One of my favorite scenes is after Dimitri’s aunt decides to discipline Katherine, and Dimitri’s horrified reaction to it all, combined with Katherine’s stiff-upper-lip reserve.
Dimitri is as equally stubborn and proud as Katherine. But nowhere near as brilliant. That’s ok. His charm and godlike looks make up for it!
This is another of Lindsey’s excellent romances that I’ve re-read many times. Secret Fire is an absolute wonder, the hero, the heroine, the plot, the writing, all of it.
Rating Report Card
He’d caught only a glimpse of her from the window of his carriage, but the young prince knew he had to have her. Within minutes, Lady Katherine St. John was dragged from the London street and carried off to a sumptuous town house — for the pleasure of her royal admirer…
From the tempestuous passion of their first encounter, across stormy seas, to the golden splendor of palaces in Moscow, she was his prisoner — obsessed with rage toward her captor even as an all-consuming need made her his slave. Yet theirs was a fervor beyond her understanding, carrying them irrevocably toward final surrender to the power of undeniable love.
If you’re familiar with your romance history, then you must know of this book, even if you haven’t read it.
The cover of Tender Is the Storm is the notorious one designed by Robert McGinnis with the naked hero standing tall as the heroine kneels before him, her ample breasts pressed firmly against his–er…dongle.
Robert McGinnis, Cover Artist
Tender is the Storm was released in 1985 as Lindsey’s 10th consecutive bestseller. McGinnis’ artwork and Lindsey’s novels made for a powerhouse combination.
Their first two covers were pleasing enough, but starting with 1980’s Fires of Winter, McGinnis would upend the romance industry. Before that, most clinch covers would show the heroine’s heaving bosoms while the hero remained fully clothed. Fires of Winter portrayed a fully naked hero, his legs bent and splayed open, with the heroine lying between his thighs.
McGinnis was a great admirer of the sensual female form. Much of his work featured nude or scantily clad women–of all skin and hair colors–with tightly muscled yet voluptuous figures.
As a pulp, detective, and movie poster artist, he had many opportunities to display his talents for painting ladies. The romance revolution of the 1970s would now allow him to demonstrate his ability to create beautiful male figures.
I’ve said before that I am not fond of modern covers with dehumanizing headless torsos, waxed naked chests, and rippling 8-pack-abs. Even so, male eye candy is a sweet sight to behold! So thank you, Robert McGinnis, for being an equal opportunity exploiter of undressed males and females.
Yeah, He Was [CENSORED]
I owned a first-edition copy of Tender Is the Storm when I initially read it 25 years ago. Alas, it was lost in the Great Book Purge, which I’ve spoken of many times before. Now, I’m stuck with a later edition with the hero’s ass [CENSORED].
The cover was so controversial at the time that booksellers from “coast to coast” refused to stock Tender Is the Storm on their shelves.
Avon had to rush out golden star stickers printed with “#1 EVERYWHERE” to place upon the hero’s buttocks. A second printing followed, this one with a circular starburst emblazoned upon the area of controversy, with the words “A COAST TO COAST BESTSELLER” on it.
Did anyone really believe that no one would figure out what was going on beneath that “subtle” distraction?
The dude is titty-banging her, and she loves every minute!
About That Review of Tender Is the Storm…
So… about Johanna Lindsey’s Tender Is the Storm.
Yuppers. It was a romance novel.
Perhaps if I’d read this from a “new-to-me” author, I would have enjoyed it more. Sadly, by Lindsey’s standards, this was mostly a meh read for me. She’s written much better books. (And some worse.)
It’s the late 1800s in New York City. The Eastern heiress Sharisse Hammond finds herself fleeing from an arranged engagement to a high-society scion in a convoluted setup. Sharisse wants nothing to do with the union. When she discovers her sister is in love with the man, the two of them hatch a plan.
They find a newspaper ad a rancher placed looking for a wife. Sharisse responds to it, deciding her best option is to move out West and be a mail-order bride (to a man she knows nothing about). Talk about out of the frying pan and into the fryer!
Her groom turns out to be Lucas Holt. He’s a white man who’s familiar with the ways of the Native American people. He’s also a handsome devil, and Sharisse is very attracted to him.
The trouble is that she’s also attracted to Lucas’ identical twin brother, Slade. Slade shows up whenever Lucas isn’t around to torment and flirt with her.
Over time, Sharisse becomes accustomed to the arduous labors of being a Western bride. And in due course, she and Lucas draw closer. She becomes his wife in the complete sense of the word. Nevertheless, Sharisse remains strongly attracted to his bothersome twin.
Whatever will she do?
I usually appreciate a plot where the heroine is torn between twin brothers (My, that sounds absolutely naughty, doesn’t it?😋). I just wasn’t wowed here. Maybe it was the ugly font that soured me.
Final Analysis of Tender Is the Storm
This isn’t a terrible romance, not really. I judged Tender Is the Storm on a curve with the other Lindseys I’ve read and found it lacking in places.
The chemistry between Sharisse & Slade and Sharisse & Lucas was hot. But the plot was thin, even for this barely 300+ page book. The ending was predictable.
But please don’t let my opinion stop you from reading this one. Your mileage may vary.
Rating Report Card
Headstrong heiress Sharisse Hammond wants no part of the New York society marriage that has been arranged for her. So she heads west across a vast and dangerous land–with no intention of honoring her agreement to become the mail-order bride of a rugged Arizona rancher. But Lucas Holt needs a wife–any wife–if his plan to destroy his most hated enemy is to succeed. And this gullible Eastern lady would do quite nicely. However, their separate schemes to use one another are complicated by raw, aching passion. For Lucas’s beautiful, unsuspecting pawn was not supposed to be so irresistibly alluring. And freedom-loving Sharisse never dreamed she could ever desire one man so much!