Historical Romance Review: “A Heart So Wild” by Johanna Lindsey

A Heart So Wild by Johanna Lindsey

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


MINI REVIEW:

I just realized I had A Heart So Wild on my Kindle and since I hadn’t read it in 25 years why not give it a re-read? And you know what? I loved this book more the second time than the first.

Why?

-Heroine & hero “meet” when the heroine is getting sexually assaulted by an outlaw, and hero shoots the bad guy dead.

-Enigmatic hero with a mysterious and tragic past.

-The heroine needs a gunslinger to guide her through hostile Indian territory to find her missing father.

-Hero fights, beats, kills men who try to kidnap or try to rape heroine.

-A snakebite where the heroine sucks blood out of the hero’s wound for an hour (!) and then he gets sick, revealing more in his fever dreams than he would if he was fine.

-Quick love scenes that express passion, aren’t too purple in prose and don’t go on for endless pages.

I’m so glad I gave this one a reread, as it made me remember why for such a long time Johanna Lindsey was my favorite author: she’s easy to read. Sometimes reading is a chore, and it shouldn’t be, if it’s a hobby I supposedly love.


Courtney is a likable heroine, and Chandos is just… well, he’s the kind of hero that made Lindsey sell tens of millions of books.

“You’re my woman, cateyes. You’ve been my woman since I first laid eyes on you.”

That didn’t satisfy her. “Say it!”

He grinned and jerked her down onto his lap, where she sat stiffly, waiting, until at last he said, “I love you. Is that what you want to hear? I love you so much I’ve got no direction without you.”

“Oh, Chandos.” She melted against him, wrapping her arms around his neck. “I love—”

“Uh-uh.” He stopped her. “You better think real carefully before you say anything, cateyes, because if you give me your love, I’m not going to let you take it back. I can’t keep worrying about whether or not I can make you happy. I’ll try my best but there isn’t going to be any changing your mind later. Do you understand what I’m saying? If you’re going to be my woman, there’s no way in hell I’ll ever let you go.”


4 1/2 stars

Originally posted at Goodreads.com

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Bodice Ripper Romance Review: “While Passion Sleeps” by Shirlee Busbee

While Passion Sleeps by Shirlee Busbee published 1983 by Avon, Cover Artist Harry Bennett

While Passion Sleeps by Shirlee Busbee

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

“While Passion Sleeps” made me feel really old. It wasn’t the plot or the characters, it was the actual book itself. This just-under-500-pages of an epic is printed in a tiny font on yellowed-paper (my edition is 38 years old) and 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, passage of time!

Speaking of the passage of time, WPS 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, living 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 just 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.), she is made to marry a profligate gambler who drinks too much, as her father has no use for her now that he has a new wife and son. Nathan Ridgeway is handsome and, despite his errant ways, not that bad of a guy. 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 twinks 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 while 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 back 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. Beth wanted nothing to do with the married Rafael, being an honorable married woman herself, even if her marriage was not quite a “marriage.”

Jealous of the pair, Rafael’s wife then 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. 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 WPS 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.

In a powerful scene, Sebastian’s illusions are shattered after he catches Beth and Rafael in an embrace. Sebastian and Rafael, who are good friends, almost come to blows until Rafael claims Beth is his mistress. Sebastian leaves the field to his cousin, his heart broken.

Never having felt such deep emotion for a woman before, Rafael is conflicted. Not only is his cousin in love with her, but there is also the matter of her husband to contend with. In the end, he decides to make Beth his and his alone. Passion will find a way.

My thoughts about this one? Except for my eyes squinting in vain to read the words, WPS was an enjoyable ride. It is a bodice ripper that spans continents and years, has lots of steamy love scenes and plenty of violence. That’s enough for me to like it.

I did have an issue with the bad Spanish in this book. Rafael’s wife is named Consuela; it should be Consuelo. Rafael refers to Beth as “mi cara” which means “my face.” It should be “querida” as “cara” is Italian for “my beloved.” I’ve seen that mistake so many times 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.”

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:

Cariad – Welsh
Querida – Spanish & Portuguese
Cara – Italian
Chère – French
Habibti (or Habibi) – Arabic
Stór – Irish
Liebling – German
Agápi – Greek
Elsket – Norweigian

Okay, language lesson over.

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. If these parts were removed, the book would feel crisper, moving at a more rapid pace.

Beth and Rafael had crazy, intense chemistry. You feel the heat coming off the pages whenever they are together and 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), they don’t really even argue that much. They have sex every chance they get when they’re alone. I would have preferred more time spent together bonding in a way that was more than physical.

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, but 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’s face. Nothing against Pedro, he just looks exactly like my cousin Felix! Nice-looking enough, he is, 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 this book, I had no guy to look at and did some head casting.

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, and I loved him in all his pigheaded, dark alpha-ness. Beth grows as a character, transforming from a naive, biddable housewife stuck in a loveless union to a fiery spitfire who endures trauma and hardship. As I said, if Busbee had tightened the manuscript a bit more by reducing the filler and added more emotionally intimate scenes between Beth and Rafael, this would have been so amazing. As it is, it’s still a very gripping read, even if at times I did skim a page or two.

3 1/2 stars rounded up to 4

Originally posted at Goodreads.com

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Classic Book Review: “Tess of the d’Urbervilles” by Thomas Hardy

© Sourced from the British Newspaper Archive

Tess of the d’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

When it comes to media consumption, my tastes are hardly that of a cultural elitist. As far as novels go, I am more likely to favor lurid-covered pulp-fiction rather than the socially approved literature that marks one a reader of serious status. All the same, I am not a complete hairy-knuckled Philistine. There are classic works that have touched me intensely so that I rejoice in their splendid perfection.

“Meanwhile, the trees were just as green as before; the birds sang, and the sun shone as clearly now as ever. The familiar surroundings had not darkened because of her grief, nor sickened because of her pain.

She might have seen that what had bowed her head so profoundly—the thought of the world’s concern at her situation—was found on an illusion. She was not an existence, an experience, a passion, a structure of sensations, to anybody but herself.”


Thomas Hardy was a maestro of prose, not overly purple, using his descriptors with care, each clause an effective addition to what words had come before. Like most Victorian authors, he is moralistic, but his morals differed quite a bit from the accepted norms. His themes were not as simplistic as “Be kind to the poor lest ye suffer for all eternity,” but much deeper ideas. What is love? What is marriage? What defines an honorable man or a virtuous woman? Has man set up impossible ideals that can never be obtained? Is the guiding hand of social norms more like a chokehold upon the innocent? And so much more.

To a people in an era defined by a rigid structure, Hardy’s works were blasphemous.

“Tess of the d’Urbervilles,” tells the doomed tale of Teresa Durbeyfield, a possible descendant of the Norman raiders of old. But Tess is no noble lady, just a poor girl from an ignoble family, her father a drunkard, her siblings numerous. There is nothing particularly special about Tess, except for a rough, sensual type of beauty. Indeed, the “hero” of the story overlooks her the first time he sees her.

From Angel Clare’s decision to ask the wrong girl to dance with him, to Alec d’Urberville’s pursuit of Tess as she walked past his carriage in the dimming light, to the scene where Tess, all alone, baptizes her dying child, to humble domesticity with Angel and Tess, to the blood dripping from the ceiling in the hotel, to Tess’s fated, tragic end, all these visions together create a mesmerizing, yet, quite frankly, depressing, saga.

Why did this book stick with me? I’ve seen it in several forms, movies, miniseries, etc., so it must resonate with a lot of others. It is a heartrending book about a nobody who was never meant for anything more than a meager existence and yet her heart ached for so much more. It’s a story filled with “If onlys.”

As Tess says before her doom: “This happiness could not have lasted. It was too much.”

5 Stars

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Bodice Ripper Romance Review: “Edin’s Embrace” by Nadine Crenshaw

Edin’s Embrace by Nadine Crenshaw, pub. 1989 Zebra, Cover Artist Pino

Edin’s Embrace by Nadine Crenshaw

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Wow…what an experience! “Edin’s Embrace” by Nadine Crenshaw is a Zebra Lovegram romance published way back in 1989. With a shimmering Pino Daeni cover featuring a muscled guy who looks a lot like Fabio, embracing a blonde on a Viking ship (spot the horse on the cover!) this could just have been another ho-hum romance.

But it’s not.

This is how the tale begins:

“The world was a colder, darker place then. It was an axe age, a wind age, a time when men didn’t dare give mercy, and a time when the powerful exacted what they could and the weak granted what they must.”

Ok, that definitely piqued my interest.

The ominous effect is spoiled a bit in the next paragraph with a glaring misspelling, thanks to the ever so diligent Zebra editors who were so lackadaisical that even I could’ve easily found work there ;-). The word hardier is used instead of heartier. There are a lot of typos in this book, which is a shame, as such a good book deserved more cautious editing.

Crenshaw diligently tries to portray the authenticity of the Viking era and sticks to lots of historical facts. This book also borrows heavily from the Icelandic sagas… setting the stage for Vikings as pitiless warriors. The heroine is a lady, not the clichéd young girl trained by her father as a boy in the arts of war. I’ve never read a Viking book with such authenticity, making sure that it was noted which helmets were worn when, the importance of bathing, the treatment of slaves. Slaves are to have their hair shorn, and they are to be killed if they try to escape. When Thoryn has neither of these things done to Edin, it is a cause of strife amongst his peoples.

Despite its authentic, violent, stark Viking feel, I do have to admit that there were a few anachronisms. The mentions of potatoes and squash threw me out of the authenticity for a moment. When a Muslim trader mentions that Constantinople was founded in the year 300 AD (Anno Domino, In the Year of our Lord Jesus Christ), I wondered why he just didn’t say it was founded about 600 years ago, instead. And as I said, there were so many typos for a book printed and edited in 1988. These are minor gripes, and I fault the editor in this. Crenshaw did try her damned best to make this as accurate as possible.

While the genuine Viking atmosphere is a major plus here, the real draw is the love story. Edin is Thoryn’s thrall, but he in turn is enslaved by her. What I really appreciate is that there is no other woman for Thoryn (except for a brief encounter with a prostitute), no other great love of his. He is a primal force of a man and love is not part of his mentality. “What is love?” is a phrase often queried here. Sometimes this book gets quite philosophical about the nature of man and woman and their bonds together. Women are a biological need for Thoryn, but before Edin came along, they offered little in terms of mental stimulation and affection. With her he becomes a better man and a better lover.

There is a scene where Thoryn approaches a Viking friend and asks him if women enjoy sex, and if they do, how can men go about pleasing them? Despite’s his friend’s poor advice, Thoryn learns how to please Edin and he she in turn pleases him. Their passion however soon turns into what could be a doomed love.

There’s a lot of introspection than action here, far more than I usually enjoy, but somehow in Edin’s Embrace, it works. Edin and Thoryn are two very deep individuals whose lives and souls are drawn together.

One thing I wasn’t crazy about was ***SPOILER***Edin’s failure to accept her place in the violent Viking world. In the end, Edin convinces Thoryn to basically say, “Hey, let’s eff this Viking pillaging stuff, and move to Constantinople to become merchants.” That might seem a bit odd, as I have no qualms when a gunslinger hangs up his guns and becomes a rancher or a pirate stops raiding and becomes a plantation owner. But when one of the most hardcore Viking heroes I‘ve ever read about hangs up his sword, it made me a bit sad. I knew it would ensure for Edin the stability she required, but it made the ending less perfect for me.

As a reader of historical romance, I have always been searching for that great Viking romance. I still rate Johanna Lindsey’s “Fires of Winter” a 5 star read because, for that 13-year-old girl who read it, that was a 5 star read. I’m not the kind of reader who looks back at books she enjoyed and said well, I don’t like them now. However, 23 years later, I’ve changed as a person and a reader. I need something different. Something more hardcore. “Edin’s Embrace” comes close, but it’s not perfect. Nevertheless, I loved it.

This is the scene that won me over in this book, and made me realize I was not reading another tame, ho-hum Viking book:

There he held her. She felt the sword point keenly. She became aware of her ribs beneath it, how delicate the bones were how easily they could be pierced.

“I’m waiting thrall! What say you know?”

She whispered, “I-I am free, a nobleman’s daughter.”

Why was she doing this? He had no scruples against murder—he’d already murdered Cedric before her very eyes!

“You suffer from unnatural belief in your own immortality,” he answered softly…Quickly another sword appeared. She looked from Thoryn to the sword Rolf held out to her.

“Take it!” The jarl stepped back half a pace, removing his sword point from her breast, yet not removing it.…She took the sword from Rolf with both hands. Even so, as soon as he released it, its point fell almost to the floor. She struggled to bring it up again, but couldn’t raise it even to the height of her waist…
“Lift it!” he said. He waved his own weapon as if it were a twig. “All it takes is a good arm.” She saw the sinews in his forearm, the muscles rippling. “It’s Rolf’s own sword, a good killing blade…If you aren’t my thrall you’ll lift it and defend your claim. I say you’re mine, my property to dispose of as I see fit. Prove to me I’m wrong!” She stood as she was, her arms and shoulders and back trembling in effort of keeping the heavy sword point from falling to the floor completely.

“Well?” He was like a dragon in his fury, rending and unreasonable. Those who resisted, he would always mercilessly overcome, if not with his muscles then with the tremendous strength of his mind and purpose. ¨

“You know I can’t fight you.”

“Come,” the jarl said dryly, lowering his sword. “Take it; charge me with it. I know you can kill if you want to.”

“I can’t!”

“You killed Ragnarr.”

“I can’t!” ¨

He made a sound of contempt. “You are a race of slaves, you Saxons.”

Her gaze dropped to somewhere near his feet. She wanted to cry, but somehow kept the sobs held in.

“I’m challenging you—fight me, my lady!”¨

“I can’t fight you, Viking, as well you know.”

Aye,” he said slowly, lowering his weapon at last, “as well I know.”

Her gaze lifted again, all the way to his face. “But I will never be your slave,” she said stubbornly.

This time he reacted with immediate anger, the most parlous kind of anger, the kind born of frustration. The jerk of his head told her of his ire, and her breath froze at the cold flare of temper in his eyes. In an instant, he became fearsome, furious mad. His mighty sword swung again, and he closed in. There was an ice storm rampaging in his eyes. The flat of his sword lifted her chin, until she was looking at him down its long gilt and silver length. All he said now was, “Slave or sword point?”

The flames snapped in the fire pit behind her. The cold, steel point pricking her throat never moved the slightest. For an immeasurable extent of time she stood perfectly still, living in a state of strain. She searched for an answer. And impaled on his gaze, feeling all those wild and hungry eyes on her, something of her pride broke inside her. In the end she could only whisper: “Slave”

What a great Viking romance, a rarity for me!

4 1/2 stars rounded up to 5

Originally posted on Goodreads.com

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Bodice Ripper Romance Review: “Stormfire” by Christine Monson

Stormfire by Christine Monson,
Cover Art Pino Daeni

Cover Art Pina Daeni

Stormfire by Christine Monson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

So, after a couple of decades of reading romance, I finally got around to “Stormfire.” Whew! They do not write them like this anymore. The ultimate in bodice-ripping, “Stormfire” is a tale of two mentally unstable people and their violent, intense love. And it’s great!

The main attraction of “Stormfire” is its writing. If it was a poorly written book no one would still be talking about it 20-plus years after it was published. The chapters each have their own titles such as “Silken Irons,” “Into Eden,” or “The Nadir.” When the heroine meets the hero her first thoughts are of Milton’s poetry: “His form had not yet lost/All his original brightness, nor appeared/Less than Archangel ruined…” The prose is evocative and compelling, but not purple. We agonize with Catherine’s enslavement, we feel the angry passion between the lovers, we grieve with Catherine’s loss, and suffer from Sean’s torture…how much misery can two people take? Then there is that intense love/hate. I wish writers of historical romances today wrote like this, deeply and intensely, if not necessarily the same plot.

But then, maybe I’m a sicko, but I like the plot. Yes, it’s epic and melodramatic: everything but the kitchen sink is in the plot including SPOILERS***: kidnapping, rape, starvation, forced slavery, multiple marriages, miscarriage, insanity, beatings, brothers fighting for the same woman, incest, castration, forcible sodomy, murder… To be honest, I wasn’t comfortable with a lot of things in the book. Even so, Stormfire is enthralling. Even those who hate this book can’t say it’s boring.

There are a lot of detractors of Stormfire, so in its defense, I’ll say this: this isn’t a sweet romance; it’s a historical romance novel, a bodice ripper, and I use the term with great affection. It’s a fantasy. A dark one, definitely, but then some might say so are the vampire, werewolf, bestiality, BDSM, menage fantasies of today. This is a different kind of fantasy, where the greatest hate in the world can be turned into love. Would this relationship work in real life? Probably not. That’s why it’s a fantasy. Stormfire is very entertaining, emotional, and unforgettable. It falters a bit towards the end, so it’s not perfect. It’s not the best romance novel ever written, but for me, it’s up there.

I’d give it 5 stars or an A- rating.

Originally posted on Goodreads.com


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