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.
Colin Thorne kept a wall around his heart no one had ever breached. His two younger brothers were lost to him, perhaps forever, and now a dark mission of revenge had brought the ruthless ship captain to England.
Penniless aristocrat Mercedes Leydon was beautiful…and desperate. Colin Thorne was claiming the estate of her dissolute uncle, the Earl of Weybourne, as payment for a gambling debt. She was treated as a servant at Weybourne Park, but it was home to her and the earl’s children. Now Mercedes would use anything—lies, promises—even her own body—to stop Thorne from destroying their lives.
A man consumed by the fires of vengeance. A woman determined never to love. An unexpected passion that could damn them both...
This review is of My Steadfast Heart, book #1 of 3 in the “Thorne Brothers” series by Jo Goodman (a pseudonym used by Joanne Dobrzanski). Published by Zebra/Kensington (March 1997).
Hero: Colin Thorne, 29. Golden-blond hair, brown eyes. Captain, the Remington Mystic.
Heroine: Mercedes Leyden, 24. Dark brown hair, blue-gray eyes. Caretaker, Weybourne Park.
The book begins in London in 1820. Colin Thorne, 8–who will grow up to become the hero of this book–watches his younger brothers Decker and Greyson get adopted while he is not. The boys became orphans after their parents were killed by highwaymen. Colin is later adopted by an American ship’s captain.
Fast forward to 1841. Colin, now 29 and captain of his own ship, the Remington Mystic, is back in London. He receives a visit from Mercedes Leyden, the book’s heroine, who is trying to stop a duel between Colin and her uncle, Wallace Leyden, Earl of Weybourne, over a bet the earl lost Colin. The duel never happens, however, as Weybourne doesn’t show.
As they spend time together, Mercedes and Colin become lovers and eventually marry. Multiple Leyden family secrets are revealed, and Mercedes and Colin discover that they have a tragic connection to each other that neither knew about.
In the end, more secrets are revealed, Mercedes is able to put her personal demons to rest, and she and Colin have their Happily Ever After.
With My Steadfast Heart, Ms. Goodman has created a fascinating concept involving a man separated from his brothers as children, who, now that they are all adults, tries to find them. There are a lot of places to go with this storyline.
The best part of the book, for me, is Colin. He is a good, honorable man, which can be surprising given all he has endured in his relatively young life.
Unfortunately, Ms. Goodman chose to go to a place that is overly complicated and wordy with the first book in the series. Due to that, the book’s storylines go in so many different directions. So it’s hard to tell what is going on. More importantly, why should I as a reader care about any of it? The writing style Ms. Goodman uses here feels like she was asked to write a book to a certain word count. Well, she did her very best to meet it.
Although I liked Colin a lot, I didn’t have the same level of affection for Mercedes. Although I understood some of her behavior, I didn’t find her as likable. She is also a woefully underdeveloped character, as are the supporting characters, who add nothing to the book at all.
The love scenes are good. They are not erotic nor graphic but strike a good balance between love, sex, romance, and the physical act of making love.
Assault, battery, stabbing, shooting, and killing all take place during “My Steadfast Heart.” The violence is not graphic.
Bottom Line on My Steadfast Heart
There are some good elements in My Steadfast Heart, but the laborious writing style Ms. Goodman uses and the overall complexity of the story brings the grade down a bit.
Location: London, England. Time frame: 19th Century.
Tropes: Historical Romance.Regency England Separated families. Ship’s Captain.
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.
Secret Fire was the second Johanna Lindsey romance I read, and it cemented her works among my favorites. Published in 1987, this 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. [Note: I have discovered he is the late Gerald “Jerry” Timm, a model and actor.]
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.
As 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.
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. 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.
Her adamant refusals prompt Dimitri’s servant to ply her with”Spanish Fly” to make her willing for the prince’s touch.
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, she holds out for what she needs–not what he desires.
[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 Johanna 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.
Was this tepid, dull romance actually penned by Johanna Lindsey? The Heirwas Lindsey’s first book where I noticed a weird change. Previously, if there was a Lindsey I didn’t like, it was due to a meandering plot or excessive fighting between the leads. There is friendship for sure in this one, but romantic isn’t what I’d call the relationship between Duncan and Sabrina.
The Plot: Friends to Lovers
Duncan, a Highland Scot, is the newly made heir to an English Marquess. Everyone in the county is eager to meet this young laird–er lord–especially the unmarried ladies. Our heroine Sabrina, however, has no designs on Duncan. She’s plump, plain, and orphaned. Sabrina’s not anyone’s ideal candidate for a wife. Certainly not for an heir to a Marquessate.
One of the ladies with eyes on Duncan is the beautiful Miss Ophelia. Ophelia desperately wants to be a Marchioness. She will connive to do whatever it takes to move up the social ladder.
When Duncan and Sabrina meet, there are no sparks. They are cordial to one another, though. A friendship forms between the two outsiders. They meet on walks and talk.
Then, one night–totally out of the blue–Sabrina and Duncan’s relationship turns physical. The pair make love. Boring, boring, love.
Thus, by doing so, Duncan has ruined his dear friend Sabrina.
A Weak Hero With No Backbone
In a shocking twist (not really), Ophelia schemes to make it appear as if Duncan ruined her. So the red-haired idiot decides to do the honorablething: marry Ophelia, the woman he hates. If Duncan truly had any honor, he would have done right by Sabrina. Instead, he cowardly leaves her in the dust. At only 21, Duncan flounders in areas where a more mature man would have acted differently. I can’t imagine previous Lindsay heroes going along with this stupidity.
Of course, Sabrina says nothing about her part, as she wants no part in a scandal. Plus, boo-hoo, she wasn’t cut out for marriage anyway. She’s so fat! Who in his right mind would want a 140-pound schlub like her? (Yes, folks, that’s sarcasm.)
If it weren’t for the only person in this book with any charisma, Raphael, twisting Ophelia’s arm to break the engagement, Duncan would have married a woman he didn’t have to. A woman he didn’t love but despised! As it is, I wasn’t even sure if Duncan loved Sabrina. They were pals. Yes, they conversed with one another without resorting to bickering, like so many Lindsey leads tended to do. Nevertheless, they lacked chemistry.
I wasn’t fond of most of the characters. Raphael was the lone exception. Sabrina was spineless. Duncan was a squish with an annoying brogue. Ophelia was just a nasty witch who didn’t deserve her own book. Oh yes, she gets paired off with Raphael in The Devil Who Tamed Her.
Final Analysis of The Heir
When I saw Duncan’s mullet hairstyle on the inside of the stepback edition of this book, I cringed. Gone were the halcyon days of Fabio. Even sadder, this was one of Elaine Duillo‘s last covers for Johanna Lindsey. An era was over.
I listened to The Heir on audio cassette while I drove to and from work. That’s the only way I could have consumed this story. Reading it would have been a chore. As it was, that daily one-hour round trip should have passed easily with an audiobook to listen to. But it didn’t–because The Heir was not an engaging romance.
It just was. (Does that make sense?)
After The Heir, I’ve only read one “newer” Lindsey I enjoyed: When Passion Rules. That was a mildly better version of Once A Princess, another book I wasn’t crazy about.
Oh well, Johanna Lindsey had a long run as a writer of wonderful novels that made the historical romance genre exciting. She’s now gone to the great beyond to be with her beloved husband. Lindsey leaves behind a legacy of entertaining romances that made tens of millions of readers giddy with joy. Too bad, for me, The Heir wasn’t one of them.
Rating Report Card
Has anyone in London ever taken part in the coming-out Season with less enthusiasm than Sabrina? Luckily, the most sought-after lady in the city has agreed to usher this young, lovely country girl through the perils and pitfalls of her all-important first season.
Dashing highlander Duncan MacTavish is even less keen to be in London. Having recently learned he is the sole heir of an English marquis, Duncan is now required to assume his grandfather’s title and estates—and to marry Sabrina’s ravishing, viper-tongued guide, who has been heard to make scathing statements in public about her “Scottish barbarian” groom-to-be.
His unwanted betrothal, however, has brought Duncan into close proximity with the enchanting Sabrina—a kindred spirit whose wit delights him… and whose essence is the exquisite stuff of dreams. But duty, station, and a secret that dwells in the lady’s past forbid Sabrina’s and Duncan’s desired union—unless true love can somehow miraculously find a way.
Rosemary Rogers, the “Grande Dame of Bodice Rippers,” wrote a few exceptional epic romances. Alas, Surrender to Love wasn’t one of them. It’s my least liked of her books I’ve read so far.
Surrender to Love begins in the hot, sultry nation of Ceylon, where the British heroine Alexa lives. Alexa is so spunky. She hates convention. Why-oh-why do rules have to be so strict for women, and why couldn’t she have been born a man?
Look, I like feminist heroines in my bodice rippers. A meek, wishy-washy heroine in one is no fun, but Alexa… It just never ended with her. Everything was political. That attitude is very draining.
But the worst aspect about her is reading her inner monologues. They’re jam-packed with randomly italicized words, sometimes just a couple per page, sometimes dozens. It made me crazy.
Alexa is one of those wild heroines who courts danger and is susceptible to intense mood swings. I got the suspicion it was the author’s menopausal mania slipping in. (I’m feeling it myself these days.)
I got a strong sense of Alexa’s mental instability with her long internal rants. Or when she’s scratching the hero Nicholas’s face off. Or sobbing hysterically in front of him. Basically, every scene underscores her fluctuating moods.
The writing was erratic. For example, POV changes without warning, just within one paragraph.
And did I mention those italics?
Alexa wants to be independent in a society constricted by stultifying rules. She meets Nicholas Dameron, who’s as wild as she is.
Their relationship is a tug-and-pull game that goes on for too long. There’s no consummation until page 337 of this 612-page brick, which ticked me off.
The tempo in Surrender to Love is more sluggish than the other Rogers books I’ve encountered, even the profoundly introspective TheWildest Heart. The pacing plods on.
It turned around after Part Two, but it was rough when a book doesn’t have not much happening for the first 200 pages. Alexa gets involved in a few scandals and then marries an older husband who brings her to the “Temple of Venus” to catch a naughty peep show or two.
She is soon widowed and goes to England to take society by storm.
Eventually, I saw where Rogers was going with the plot; it’s a tale of a woman who defies the stifling conventions of the Victorian Era through her overt sexuality.
I wondered if Rogers was ever a fan of Mexican telenovelas. The hidden family secrets, brutish hero, and spunky heroine reminded me of Alondra, which was about a “beautiful, rebellious girl, with very independent and progressive views for that time” (i.e., she has sex with other men besides the hero) who looks and acts just like Alexa.
Random Observations on Surrender to Love
All the Viscounts of this-and-that running around got confusing. But at least they weren’t Dukes!
Nicholas Dameron was too nebulous, too enigmatic for a hero, which is unusual for me to criticize. Despite learning the history of his first wife, I didn’t understand him at all.
As always, Rogers drew upon themes of women’s liberation. This time it came on a bit thick.
Yes, Alexa, we get it. Being a woman in the 19th century was smothering and oppressive. However, she was part of the wealthy upper class, plus beautiful & widowed. Alexa had privileges that the average woman of her time did not share.
Alexa’s rash impetuosity was a major flaw. She never thought about her actions first. She was capricious and blamed her troubles on outside forces.
Nobody forced her to move to London and deal with the repressive London ton, but she had to have her “revenge” on Nicholas for ruining her in Ceylon.
Sure, Alexa, it was revenge you were after.
The world was that woman’s oyster, but she had a hankering for geoduck:
The first two hundred pages could have been condensed to half that amount. The ending was weird (although not the “trial” and a whipping scene, which was awesome). One moment Alexa is engaged to Charles, her consummation with him is glossed over, and then she ends up married to Nicholas.
Happy ending, I guess?
Final Analysis of Surrender to Love
Surrender to Love wasn’t Rosemary Roger’s best romance. She’s written far better.
Strong characterization, a staple of her works, is missing here. The heroine was a manic mess. Nicholas, the hero, was too distant and mysterious to be appreciated.
The villains weren’t exciting. Although I liked Alexa’s evil grandma, she was the Diet Coke of evil: just one calorie, not evil enough. Same opinion of the Marquess. But as long as I kept imagining Mexican actress Beatriz Sheridan as the evil Dowager Marchioness, I had a good time with that particular villainess.
I would have given Surrender to Love a less than favorable rating but settled on three stars because the pluses slightly outweighed the negatives.
But, oh, those annoying italicsmade it difficult.
Rating Report Card
Under the midnight moon of Ceylon, on the night of her debutante ball at the Governor’s palace, Alexa Howard met her cousin, Nicholas Dameron. And in the sardonic curl of his hard, sensuous lips, in the commanding arrogance of his eyes, Alexa beheld the fierce, implacable passion that would render her helpless to the trembling slavery of desire…
Every kind of love a woman can be made to feel… Within the golden softness of Alexa’s alluring gentility flowed the insatiable fires of an innocent woman’s awakening to lvoe — and the fury of a betrayed woman’s lust for revenge. Through the nightworlds of Naples, Rome, Paris and London, she was pursued by the man who heartlessly wanted her beauty. But her soul was possessed by the man whose touch was unbearable ecstasy, whose cruelty was ravishing torment, whose tenderness was passion’s fulfillment. Nicholas Dameron had taken her virtue and mocked her pride. But his love was the offering of every pleasure a woman has ever dared to dream of…
Ravenby Evelyn Rogers is one of those books with a little bit of everything. Of course, there’s romance–the chemistry between the protagonists was sizzling–but there’s also adventure, painful tragedy, and a dash of gothic intrigue.
Raven, an American Southerner living in England, is a broken woman with a tainted past. She has to learn to let go of her hurts to become the mature, independent woman she was destined to be.
Acting is her calling, so our heroine takes to the London stage to be an actress. There, she shines as a bright star. Still, there is an emptiness inside her.
Marcus Bannerman is just the man she needs. He is a wealthy and arrogant nobleman. Marcus is a multi-faceted character, however, as he is also a kind, understanding man.
Marcus is a very patient and dedicated lover. He was an incredibly sensual hero, and the dialogue between him and Raven was so steamy!
Besides having to get over the major trauma she experienced long ago, now there is danger afoot that could threaten Raven’s life!
Final Analysis of Raven
I’ve read several books by Evelyn Rogers, and I’ve always been impressed. This was one of her best romances so far! She was one of the better authors for Kensington’s Zebra imprint and later wrote for Dorchester.
Raven was the second in a series of books about three sisters trying to flee from their pasts. I’ve yet to read them all, although I will correct that very soon because Raven was an excellent read.
Rating Report Card
A WOMAN OF SECRETS Haunted by memories of the terrible night that left her innocence shattered, Raven Chadwick prefers the world of make-believe to the cruel realities of everyday life. So she leaves her girlhood home of Savannah to pursue a stage career — and uncover a mysterious family secret.
A MAN OF MYSTERY In London, Raven meets Marcus Bannerman, the enigmatic Earl of Stafford. Powerful and hotly sensual, he fills her with doubt — and awakening desire…
A WORLD OF PASSION Then Raven discovers the truth that was once hidden amid the shadows of the elegant Stafford mansion — a secret that could change her life. Only if she believes in herself and the man she adores will Raven be able to take on her greatest role: a woman ready to fight for her true, undying love!
While Passion Sleeps by Shirlee Busbee made me feel really old. It wasn’t the plot or the characters; it was the actual book itself.
This just-under-500-pages epic is printed in a tiny font on yellowed paper (my edition is 38 years old). Reading it strained my eyes something awful. I’ve been nearsighted all my life, but now things up close are getting blurry. I’ll be going to the eye doctor this week for a new Rx because I need bifocals. *Sigh.* Damn you, the passage of time!
Speaking of the passage of time, While Passion Sleeps features a macho hero who would be booed out of Romancelandia if he were to appear in a romance novel today. Rafael Santana, who’s one tough Texan (1/4 American, 1/4 Comanche, and 1/2 Spanish), was kidnapped by the Comanches as a child. He lived with them for years before being rescued by his Spanish relatives.
He is a savage man, torn between two worlds, as he never fully adjusted to polite society. A forced marriage to a cold-hearted woman and several fleeting sexual affairs have jaded Rafael’s perspective about females.
Women were such deceptive little bitches, [Rafael] thought viciously as he kicked his horse into a gallop. They had faces like angels and bodies to drive men wild, and yet they lie, cheated, and would merrily rip a man’s heart from his body for the sheer joy of watching him writhe.
Besides being a founding member of “The He-Man Women’s Hater Club,” he’s capable of and has committed extreme violence:
“I was 12 the first time I went on a raid & yes, I did enjoy it,” Rafael interrupted coolly. “I was 13 when I stole my first horse and scalped my first white man and a year later, I raped my first woman and took my first captive. By the time I was 17, I was raiding w/ the warriors for over five years; I owned fifty horses, had my own buffalo skin teepee, three slaves of my own & several scalps taken by my hand decorated my lance.”
(I can hear the clacking sound of myriad strings of pearls being clutched by the “How dare you!” crowd.)
On the other side of the Atlantic Ocean is the heroine Beth. A beautiful violet-eyed, platinum-haired Englishwoman (Are there really women who naturally look like that in real life? I’ve yet to see one.), Beth is forced to marry a profligate gambler who drinks too much. Her noble father has no use for her now that he has a new wife and son.
Nathan Ridgeway is handsome and not that bad of a guy despite his errant ways. The problem is Nathan has “teh ghey” and try and try as he might, he just can’t get a chubby for his sweet 16-year-old bride. Only hot, young men will do it for him and Beth ain’t that.
Dismayed at first by the inability to consummate their marriage, he and Beth fall into a contented, platonic arrangement, where Beth capably mages the household affairs. At the same time, Nathan not-so-discreetly enjoys the company of his paramours. A whiff of potential scandal hits the air, so the pair hightail it off to the United States to make a new life for themselves.
They move to Louisiana, then later to Mississippi, where eventually Beth, the super-perfect woman, manages a huge plantation that turns a tidy profit, while Nathan again not-so-discreetly enjoys the company of his paramours.
Let’s rewind a bit to their time in Louisiana. There at a ball, Beth’s shimmering violet eyes met the passionate smoky-gray gaze of Rafael Santana. The attraction was instantaneous, leading Rafael to make a crude proposition. Of course, Beth wanted nothing to do with the married Rafael, being an honorable married woman herself, even if her marriage was not quite a “marriage.”
Rafael’s wife was jealous of the pair and arranged for Rafael’s cousin to rape a drugged Beth, then have Rafael come upon the scene. Moments before the cousin could do the deed, an enraged Rafael enters the room, catching what he believes are two lovers in flagrante delicto.
Furious that another man had his way with Beth yet enchanted by her naked body, Rafael becomes maddened with lust. Under the influence of intoxicants, Beth’s only sensation is desire.
She begs Rafael to take her, which he eagerly does. Thinking he’s having sloppy seconds and in a state of anger, somehow Rafael fails to notice that Beth’s a virgin, even though her hymen is still intact. (I always question when this sort of thing happens in romances: how can a man who’s been around the entire neighborhood not notice the major resistance a hymen makes upon entry? These heroes just plow through like it’s made of wet tissue paper.)
After their one night of passion, Beth flees in shame. She and Rafael don’t see each other until four years later when Beth decides to travel through Texas to visit an old friend. But, when they meet again, their lust can’t be controlled, and they go at it again. And again. And again!
Rafael’s wife is now dead, and he thinks Beth is a shameless adulteress, beguiling innocent men with her beauty. I’ve never read Gypsy Lady, but for those of you who have, it’s interesting to note that Sebastian, the son of that book’s protagonists, is featured in While Passion Sleeps as Rafael’s cousin. He, too, is mad about the lovely Beth.
Sebastian is the only one who knows the true nature of Beth’s marriage, having witnessed Nathan in bed in the arms of another man. He vows to save Beth from her phony marriage and make her his bride.
Sebastian’s illusions are shattered in a powerful scene after he catches Beth and Rafael in an embrace. Rafael and Sebastian, who are good friends, almost come to blows until Rafael claims Beth is his mistress. Sebastian leaves the field to his cousin; his heart is broken.
Never having felt such deep emotion for a woman before, Rafael is conflicted. Not only is his cousin in love with Beth, but she also had a husband to contend with. Ultimately, he decides to make Beth his and his alone. No matter what, passion will find a way.
An Aside: Language Lesson
I did have an issue with the bad Spanish in While Passion Sleeps.
Rafael’s wife is named Consuela; it should be Consuelo.
Also, Rafael refers to Beth as “mi cara,” which means “my face.” Instead, it should be “querida” as “cara” is Italian for “my beloved.” I’ve seen that mistake so often in older romances when the hero speaks Spanish, especially in Harlequins. Fortunately, Rafael doesn’t call her that too often, preferring to call Beth his “English.”
Please permit me to go over this for a moment. Any romance reader worth their salt should know how to say this to a woman in multiple languages. There are many ways to say “my beloved,” “my dear,” or “my love” in various languages, but here in random order, are the ones I know off the top of my head:
Except for my eyes squinting in vain to read the words, While Passion Sleeps was an enjoyable ride. It is a bodice ripper that spans continents and years and has lots of steamy love scenes and plenty of violence. That’s enough for me to like it.
There are times when this book lags, especially during the first half when Beth and Rafael don’t spend much time with each other. For some reason, Busbee went into extreme detail over the most unimportant things, like Beth and her husband traveling from New Orleans to Texas or about Comanche & Texas history. The editing could have been tighter.
Beth and Rafael had crazy, intense chemistry. You feel the heat coming off the pages whenever they are together. The love scenes, while a bit lavender, were sexy as hell. But… that’s all they have.
They don’t really converse, don’t go through shared experiences (except for towards the end), heck they don’t even argue that much. They have sex every chance they get when they’re alone. I would have preferred more time spent together bonding emotionally than physically.
A Mustache Aside
Also, for some reason, I imagined Rafael with a mustache. Busbee makes no mention of one. Yet after reading this scene:
“Let me,” he muttered, roughly. “You are as beautiful there as anywhere, and I want the taste of you on my mouth, the scent of you in my nostrils. Let me!”
I couldn’t picture him without a flavor-saver on his face! Usually, mustaches are a turn-off. However, imagining Rafael as Mexican actor Mauricio Islas, one of the few men who can pull it off, made it all good.
Until I pictured another face. With the show The Mandalorian in the news lately, for some reason, Mauricio’s image kept morphing into actor Pedro Pascal. Nothing against Pedro. He just looks exactly like my cousin Felix! Nice-looking enough, but he’s not my idea of a brutal lover and killer whose cold, pale eyes barely hide the passions which simmer beneath the surface.
That’s just my baggage. I’ve got to stop imagining actors as heroes. When the cover (sadly) fell off While Passion Sleeps, I had no guy to look at and did some head casting.
Final Analysis of While Passion Sleeps
This is the third Shirlee Busbee I’ve read and definitely the best of the bunch. While Passion Sleeps has a hero you either love or hate. I loved him in all his pigheaded, dark alpha-ness.
Beth grows as a character. She transforms from a naïve, biddable housewife stuck in a loveless union to a fiery spitfire who endures trauma and hardship.
If Busbee had tightened the manuscript a bit more by reducing the filler and adding more emotionally intimate scenes between Beth and Rafael, this would have been amazing. As it is, it’s still a very gripping read, even if, at times, I did skim a page or two.
Rating Report Card
THE LADY: Beth Ridgeway was a violet-eyed platinum beauty — the kind of woman who made men burn with desire. Yet her husband Nathan didn’t want her…
THE ROGUE: Rafael Santana, the darkly handsome and arrogant son of a wealthy Texas family, had been kidnapped by the Comanches and raised as a warrior. Even now, all his gentleman’s breeding couldn’t conceal the savage strength beneath his aristocratic bearing.
THE FURY: Beth thought he was cruel and insensitive, a man who used women only for his selfish pleasure and then tossed them away. Rafael thought she was a common wench — flirtatious and unfaithful — who took pride in breaking men’s hearts.
THE FIRE: Yet something had happened when their eyes first met at a dazzling New Orleans ball. Something their hearts could not deny, something neither the years nor the violent misunderstandings could diminish. Because for the first time, both Beth and Rafael were awakening to the magnificent passions of love.