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dark fire

Category Romance Review: Dark Fire by Elizabeth Lowell

Dark Fire by Elizabeth Lowell pairs a virile, macho guide/bodyguard and a wealthy heiress traveling together through the jungles of Peru.

dark fire category romance
Dark Fire by Elizabeth Lowell
Rating: four-stars
Published: 1988
Illustrator: Unknown
Book Series: The McCalls #2
Published by: Silhouette
Genres: Category Romance, Contemporary Romance
Pages: 187
Format: eBook, Paperback, Hardcover
Buy on: AmazonAbeBooks
Reviewed by: Introvert Reader


Category Romance Review: Dark Fire by Elizabeth Lowell

MILD SPOILERS 😉

The Book

Dark Fire by Elizabeth Lowell, a 1988 Silhouette Desire, takes us on a trek through the jungles of Peru. This is book #2 in her McCalls series.

Our hero is Trace Rawlings–the ‘stache. Elizabeth Lowell really loved men with flavor savers, didn’t she? I’m not judging; we all have our kinks. 😉

Trace is pictured on the cover as the apex of hirsute handsomeness: a full head of dark locks, a thick mustache, and a chest covered with more hair than a bar of soap at a YMCA.

Cynthia McCall, our heroine, is going by the name Cindy Ryan, and she needs Trace’s help.

dark fire silhouette desire

The Plot

Cindy’s father is Big Eddy McCall, a well-connected, super-powerful multi-millionaire (it’s the 1980s, and the rise of the billionaire era was a decade away). He controls politicians and businessmen but can’t control what he desires most. Big Eddy wants plenty of grandchildren to ensure his dynasty lives on.

His daughter has no interest in marriage. Cindy isn’t willing to settle down yet, focusing more on her business. That’s okay. Big Eddy’s a modern kind of patriarch, and he’ll take any biological grandchildren he can get–on whatever side of the blanket.

Cindy is a co-owner of a boutique clothing company that purchases textiles from a Peruvian connection in Quito. But their contact was associated with a shady emerald dealer and disappeared. Then Cindy’s business partner Susan went missing looking for said textile contact.

Word has it that a powerful cartel boss named Raul has Cindy’s friend in his clutches. Cin hires Trace Rawlings to help guide her on her trip through the jungles so she can search for her friend.

The only catch is that Big Eddy McCall has gotten to Trace first and is paying him a whopping ONE THOUSAND DOLLARS A DAY to keep an eye on Cin to ensure her safety.

Dr Evil GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

The Conflict

Trace views Cindy as pampered, spoiled “princess” and repeatedly calls her this throughout the book to mock her. He is a macho man and doesn’t cotton to dainty city gals gallivanting through dangerous territory for specious reasons. Especially a gal with a wealthy daddy paying him to babysit her.

There are many adventures along the way in Dark Fire that bring Cindy and Trace together–even if initially they get along like… well, like these critters:

Trace doesn’t help Cindy as she struggles through the environment because he’d perversely prefer to watch her struggle for his enjoyment.

But Trace isn’t an absolute caveman, and the two start to bond over their pasts. Although, he does have that virile body hair and facial hair, which has an allure of its own. I’ve only read a few Elizabeth Lowell romances, but she seems to have a type.

The two leads form a bond that turns from merely carnal into spiritual, and that’s when you believe that this isn’t just another love story but one that’s worth telling.

In the end, there are some twists revealed about her father, which aren’t so shocking, and don’t prevent our mains from getting together.

Dark fire by Elizabeth lowell

Final Analysis of Dark Fire

The lovemaking in Dark Fire was as deep purple as the song Smoke on the Water and reached fervent religious heights.

At first, that irritated me, as Silhouette Desires are supposed to be reliably steamy. Then I realized Elizabeth Lowell goes all out. If she is going to write a romance, it might as well be a romance that transcends mere humanity, not just a humdrum story of two strangers passing in the night.

Dark Fire was over-the-top in its overwroughtness. I liked it enough to rate it a 3 to 3.5-star read, but I had to give it 4 stars. For the ‘stache, natch.

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

Synopsis

INTO THE WOODS

Cynthia’s father had insisted she hire a survival specialist for her Ecuadorian trip, and she’d reluctantly complied, only to find Trace Rawlings was everything she disliked in a man: ruthless, domineering, egotistical. Yet traveling through the treacherous South American rain forest, she found he was all the man she needed ….

Trace was no tour guide, particularly not for some pampered rich kid. But he could name his price, and he rarely said no to an opportunity. When Cynthia Ryan appeared on his doorstep, he knew he’d made the right decision. She was the exception to all his rules–especially the one about never falling in love.

DARK FIRE by ELIZABETH LOWELL
And Gold Was Ours duillo

Historical Romance Review: And Gold Was Ours by Rebecca Brandewyne

Synopsis:

In faraway Spain Aurora’s fortune was foretold –the exile from the home of her aristocratic ancestors, the journey to the steaming jungles of Peru, and at last, the love of a fiery dark man.

Now on a plantation haunted by a tale of lost love and hidden gold, the raven-tressed beauty awaits the swordsman and warrior she has seen in her dreams. Will he come-and protect her from the enemies that seek to destroy her? Will he love her with the promised passion-wilder than the tropic storms and brighter than the most precious treasure?

AND GOLD WAS OURS by REBECCA BRANDEWYNE

Reviewed by: Introvert Reader

MILD SPOILERS 😉

The Book and the Setup

And Gold Was Ours is a sequel to Rebecca Brandewyne‘s Love, Cherish Me. However, I’d consider this more of a companion piece. The hero, Esteban, is the cousin to Wolf (Lobo), the male protagonist from Love Cherish, Me. Wolf’s story takes place in Texas, USA. Esteban’s begins in Spain and ends in Peru. While both novels have Brandewyne’s hallmark baroque-gothic atmosphere, And Gold Was Ours is not as dark and emotional as its predecessor.

What this romance does have are swashbuckling intrigue and a unique setting. It also employs a supernatural element.

Our story begins in Spain, sometime in the mid-19th century, under the reign of Isabel II. The book opens with a swordfight between Esteban and his evil stepfather. Although Esteban has right on his side, after he kills his stepfather, his wicked stepbrother vows revenge. So Esteban is forced to leave everything behind and flee to the New World.

Aurora Leila, also in Spain, has a fortune teller foresee her future. She is told that she’ll have to leave her home for faraway lands. There, she will find a love that has awaited her for eternity. While Aurora scoffs at the seer, the woman is correct. Some misadventures with a lusty nun occur while Aurora is in a convent. Like Esteban, Aurora must leave her birthplace behind. She travels thousands of miles away to Peru.

The Plot

It takes some time for the love story to begin, as Brandewyne puts the players into their starting places.

When Esteban and Aurora meet in South America, it’s as if they’ve known each other for all time. A bond exists between them, which seems to have existed since time primordial. Theirs is a fated love, one passionate and thrilling.

There are villains aplenty and crazy adventures along the way as they fall in love in the jungles of Peru. Danger lurks as enemies compete for land. A search for legendary ancient treasure leads to mortal peril.

Midway through the book, Esteban and Aurora take a side trip to Texas. They share happy moments with Storm, Lobo, and their son, Chance. If you’ve read Love Cherish Me, this part hits hard in the feels. This was a brief halcyon period for Storm and Lobo before tragedy struck.

Then it’s back to Peru for Esteban and Aurora, who must overcome scheming antagonists.

And unfortunately, we encounter Esteban’s 180-degree heel-turn. He starts out as a dashing, romantic character and then, out of nowhere, turns into a jealous stalker. It was out of place and made Esteban less likable.

Meanwhile, Aurora has visions of the two of them in times past. She sees images from ancient Egypt to Viking lands and other eras long ago when she and Esteban had loved each other. Through forces of fate, they were forever being separated.

Is their love doomed to fail in this time and place as well?

and gold was ours
And Gold Was Ours, Leisure/ Dorchester reissue, 1999, Lina Levy cover art

Final Analysis of And Gold Was Ours

I didn’t particularly appreciate Esteban’s personality transplant, how became an insecure stalker mid-way through. There was no reason for him to mistrust Aurora, who was totally devoted to him.

While I enjoyed And Gold Was Ours as it had its adventurous moments, it pales compared to Love Cherish, Me. That book was far grander in scope and emotional depth.

I didn’t expect the paranormal elements, although they added a unique twist to the plot. The prose is at times overwrought and very florid, typical of Brandewyne’s style. The love scenes are euphemistically erotic.

And Gold Was Ours started a little slow-paced and gets too wordy in certain sections. It was not one of my favorites by Rebecca Brandewyne, but it’s not the worst book by any means.

File this under the “I enjoyed it very much but didn’t love it” category. Esteban’s misplaced jealousy aside, for the most part, it was a compelling read.

3.63 stars

Midnight Captive pino

Historical Romance Review: Midnight Captive by Penelope Neri

book review historical romance
Midnight Captive by Penelope Neri
Rating: five-stars
Published: 1989
Illustrator: Pino
Imprint or Line: Zebra Historical Romance
Published by: Kensington
Genres: Historical Romance
Pages: 512
Format: Paperback
Buy on: AmazonAbeBooks
Reviewed by: Blue Falcon


Historical Romance Review: Midnight Captive by Penelope Neri

SPOILER ALERT ⚠

The Book

This review is of Midnight Captive, a standalone Zebra historical romance from March 1989 by Penelope Neri.

The Plot

Prologue

Midnight Captive begins ominously.

A man finds a cache of gold and wishes everything he touches would turn into it. Hearing him, the Devil appears and makes the man a bargain. If the unnamed man sells his soul to the Devil, the Devil will grant his wish.

The man agrees. He later realizes, however, that such a bargain has unintended consequences.

This is the theme running through the book.

Part One

We meet Krissoula Ballardo, the heroine of Midnight Captive, and her business partner, Hector Corrales, in Spain.

Their business: rolling rich men and stealing from them.

When they see Esteban de San Martin, the hero, they try to rob him. This plan fails. Rather than have Krissoula arrested, Esteban blackmails her. He needs her to help him get revenge against his uncle, Felipe Aguilar, in Esteban’s home country Argentina.

Felipe is the brother of Esteban’s late father, Alejandro. There is significant bad blood between uncle and nephew.

We also learn about Krissoula’s past, which involves a happy childhood and much-less-happy young adulthood.

As part of Esteban’s plan, Krissoula must lure Felipe into proposing marriage to her.

However, he discovers that she and Esteban are lovers, leading to major trouble for both Krissoula and Esteban.

Esteban is severely beaten by Felipe’s henchmen. Meanwhile, Krissoula and her duena Sofia de Alicante y Moreno must flee. They end up being kidnapped by revolutionaries who want to overthrow the Argentine government.

Part Two

They escape their captivity. Krissoula and Sofia make their way to the Argentine barrios, where Krissoula has to fight off the predatory intentions of Antonio Malvado, the “godfather” of the barrio they’re staying in.

Those efforts end up for naught, however, as Sofia becomes seriously ill, and Krissoula has no choice but to go to Malvado for help. She also plans to kill Malvado for his contribution to the death of a friend of hers.

Esteban–now recovered from his beating–discovers that Krissoula is with Malvado. After a violent battle and a chase, he rescues Krissoula from Malvado’s evil clutches and kills him.

Krissoula and Esteban marry, have one child, officially adopt two others, and unofficially many others. They open an orphanage for the homeless, parentless children of the barrio.

Krissoula and Esteban have their Happily Ever After.

Upside

The Heroine

A reader might read the title Midnight Captive and think the book is a “Stockholm Syndrome” romance. It’s not, thankfully.

What it is really is a story about a young woman–Krissoula is 19–who has endured major hardships and trauma in her young life, finding happiness through her own inner strength and courage.

At first, I didn’t like Krissoula–she starts the book as a thief–but as I read more, I grew to like, and later love, Krissoula. Readers will watch her grow up before their eyes.

She has a lot of similarities with another Penelope Neri heroine, Freya Jorgenson from Sea Jewel. The two stories are very different in terms of setting and culture. Yet both are about women experiencing hellish trauma at young ages and finding happiness by tapping into strength they didn’t know they had in order to survive.

The Couple

Both Krissoula and Esteban have fully realized characters. Although neither is flawless, they are very human.

They also have hot chemistry that comes from pairing a Gypsy/Spanish/Greek heroine with a Latinx hero. Esteban is my favorite Neri hero–admittedly, not a high bar to climb, as most of her “heroes” are rapist bastards, but he clears the bar easily.

I also liked the fact that both Krissoula and Esteban were willing to give a “hand-up” to the kids that needed a champion.

Ms. Neri also ties her parable from the beginning of the book into her main story. Esteban becomes wealthy but realizes that it’s no good if he doesn’t have Krissoula, whom he loves very much.

For Krissoula, she almost married Felipe–who is later killed “off-screen.” She comes to realize that though she may gain wealth by marrying, Krissoula would not be loved.

For only Esteban could provide her with the true love she has been seeking all of her life.

Ms. Neri is also a very good “scenic” writer. By that, I mean that she is very descriptive in her writing of scenes and takes me, as a reader, into her scenes.

Downside

Like the majority of Ms. Neri’s books, Midnight Captive is overlong. This is the 10th book I’ve read by Ms. Neri, and only one has come in at less than 500 pages. Midnight Captive checks in at 512 pages.

There were way too many exclamation points at the end of paragraphs and sentences.

I also felt the storyline about the overthrow of the Argentine government to be tacked on as a way to extend the page count. It was not really important or relevant to the book as a whole.

Sex

Ms. Neri knows how to write a sexy love scene–she did so in Sea Jewel–but here, the love scenes are fairly mild. They’re not Ms. Neri’s best love scenes.

Violence

Assault, battery, destruction of guns, and killings take place in Midnight Captive. The violence is not graphic.

Bottom Line on Midnight Captive

Midnight Captive by Penelope Neri is not a flawless book, but it has more than enough good qualities-including an amazing heroine–to earn a 4.89, rounded–up 5 stars from me.

5 Stars

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

Synopsis:

MONEY WAS SUPERIOR TO MARRIAGE

After a poor, ragged girlhood with he gypsy kinfolk, Krissoula Ballardo knew that all she wanted from life was her share of riches. But there was only one way for the penniless temptress to earn a cent: to fake interest in a man, drug him, and pocket everything he had! Then the sable-haired seductress met dashing Esteban de San Martin, and a hot unquenchable passion seared her soul. The fortune-hunting beauty knew she should flee the handsome devil — but a force more powerful made her run straight into his embrace!

RANCHING WAS BETTER THAN ROMANCE

All his life, dark, towering Esteban had been denied his father’s name; now he swore nothing would keep him from his rightful inheritance. In order to regain his vast Argentine acreage, the crafty vacquero blackmailed Krissoula, the unscrupulous wench who’d once tried to fool him. But the more he involved her in his plot, the more Esteban couldn’t deny her effect on him. Her luscious lips begged for his sensual kisses, her ripe curves invited his arousing caresses, and soon he was ready to sacrifice his carefully planned scheme for one searing moment in the welcoming arms of his exotic midnight captive.

midnight captive by PENELOPE NERI
the waterfalls on the moon

Category Romance Review: The Waterfalls of the Moon by Anne Mather

Reviewed by: Introvert Reader

MILD SPOILERS 😉

The Spoiled Anti-Heroine

In Anne Mather‘s The Waterfalls of the Moon (I love the old Harlequin Presents titles), the teenage heroine is in pursuit of a much older man, but the hero’s not taking the San-Quentin tail so easily.

I can’t say many of Anne Mather’s works number among my all-time favorites, but, for the most part, I had a good time reading them. She could make unlikeable heroines that were somehow fascinating, and Ruth is one of them. She’s a spoiled teen, rich beyond reason, bored, and chases after Patrick with a cold calculation.

All you have to do is change record players to iPhones (although record players have made a huge comeback) and there’s no difference between this shallow youth’s mega-rich lifestyle and that of the pampered princesses of Bravo & MTV reality TV. She parties, she lunches, she shops, she dates…casually. As this is a 1970’s era Harlequin, Ruth is not sexually experienced.

She is, however, quite cunning, and when circumstances lead to Patrick getting black-out drunk they’re together, she takes advantage of the situation to suit her desires.

The Plot

Patrick is in England temporarily, and the last thing he needs is a woman, let alone a privileged girl nearly two decades younger, whose Daddy will buy her whatever she wants, including him.

Regardless, Patrick’s body wants what his head does not, and so a battle rages within him: “I want you, I don’t want you, I want you, I don’t want you… I’m stalking you & now I have to get pass-out drunk because I am so jealous thinking about you with other men!”

And Ruth thinks: “I love him! He passed out in my bed & thinks we did it! Of course, we didn’t, but I won’t tell him the truth until it’s too late.”

So Ruth manipulates Patrick into thinking that they spent a drunken night together. Worse, to come, she makes him believe she’s pregnant.

Patrick, being the old-fashioned type, agrees to marry Ruth. However, he’s got work in Venezuela, so that’s where Ruth is to live for the next several months. One thing about Ruth is that she’s no wishy-washy person; she knows her mind, as devious as it is. It’s in for a penny, in for a pound with her.

So Ruth goes to Venezuela, into the depths of the jungles, to be with her man. Then he finds out the shocking truth, and our love story unfolds from there.

Final Analysis of Waterfalls of the Moon

I enjoy a good heroine-in-pursuit romance, and The Waterfalls of the Moon was mostly that. I wish there were more happy interactions between Ruth and Patrick, but the plot setup took a bit of time in this short category romance. Still, if you’re looking for a vintage romance where the heroine isn’t the usual epitome of moral perfection, this one has a tangy bite to it.

3.5 Stars