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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Bodice Ripper Romance Review: “Skye O’Malley” by Bertrice Small

The legendary bodice ripper, “Skye O’Malley,” is a rip-roaring blast of an historical romance, full of passion, drama and OTT purple prose love scenes.

Skye O’Malley by Bertrice Small

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

SPOILERS AHEAD:

Oh, never, ever was there a lass as lovely as Skye O’Malley. With raven locks, eyes as blue-green as the Kerry sea, tiny waist, impossibly long legs for such a wee girl, perfectly pert boobies, and a fantastically elastic vagina that bounces back to its teen glory no matter how many kids she births (she must’ve done her Kegels), Skye is the most beautiful, most desirable, most enchanting, the bestest evar! Any man who looks upon her nubile beauty will be inflicted with priapism, and the sole cure is a ticket of the old in and out of Skye’s mossy cavern of passion. Her weeping honey-oven. Her juicy love-grotto, as it were. Yup, only the most cringey, the purplest of euphemisms are here as the vintage Queen of Erotic romance, Bertrice Small, takes us across the seas and nations to experience the highs and lows, but mostly orgasmic highs, of Skye’s life. Women, be it the female pirate Grace O’Malley or the Queen of England herself, Queen Bee, are intimidated by her beauty and her fiery, passionate nature! And men… well, they all want to delve their pulsing lances into her dewy-petaled moist sheath.

Not one hero will do for our eponymous goddess of a heroine, Skye. She’s too hot and needs a lot of thick hose to put out her fires! The daughter of an Irish laird/pirate named Dubhdara, Skye is secretly in love with Niall, a powerful lord’s son. Alas, she is too saucy a wench and will never due for Niall. His parents connive to wed Skye to dumb Dom. Then our hero does something shocks everyone. On Skye’s wedding night, Niall stuns the revelers when he interrupts the festivities, points his finger at Skye, and says “I claim droit de seigneur of this woman!” Which is so goofy, and like the film “Braveheart,” ahistorical, but just go with it.

Afterward, Skye is left to live with Dom, who’s got a giant wang, but only teases Skye with it, as he never lasts long, and besides, it’s incestuous hook-ups with his sister, Claire, he prefers. Occasionally, Dom brings Skye into their little dalliances, although Skye is unwilling. She bares Dom’s 2 sons before he’s paralyzed and then eventually dies.

Niall, in the meantime, was married off to frigid, crazed Darragh, whom he eventually casts aside. She enters a nunnery, and now he and Skye are free to marry. Uh-uh-uh, not so fast. Our independent Skye demands to expand her father’s shipping business, and wouldn’t you know it, she gets shipwrecked and loses her memory. Skye ends up in Algiers to have yet another true love affair, this time with the Grand Whoremaster of Algiers, Khaled-El-Bey, because, for some reason, in Small’s corner of Romancelandia, Irish-Welsh-Scottish-English women from the Middle Ages to post-Enlightenment were drawn to harems like rusty nails to magnets (ouch, bad metaphor). Skye becomes one of his earthly houris, but strictly for his personal use, and not only that but his top bitch, her poon so fine, even the biggest pimp in all of pimpdom has to put a ring on it.

Niall is this time married off to a Spanish girl. The sweet, innocent virgin Niall seduces and then marries turns out to be the opposite of wife #1; she’s an insatiable nympho who becomes a secret whore because even with Niall giving it to her three times a night, it’s still not enough.

Yada, yada yada, Skye gives Khaled El-Bey a daughter, but he croaks due to harem machinations and jealousy. Skye, who’s so awesome she can always depend on the kindness of strangers to help her out, leaves for England, even though she still has amnesia.

There she is pursued by yet another true love, Geoffrey. The blond, green-eyed arrogant Lord Southwood bets that he can seduce the mysterious Skye, who spurns him, entices him, makes him fall for her until… she’s his! Oh, and he’s married. Skye doesn’t care. His wife dies, and eventually, Skye marries Geoffrey and is blissfully happy. Until that is, her memory returns when she sees Niall almost killed and screams out his name. But again, they’re married to different people, so they can’t be together.

I hated Geoffrey and was glad when he kicked the bucket. He blamed his first wife for being unable to bear sons and threw it in her face that’s why he abandoned her. His perfect Skye would have no trouble giving him sons, though. Her vagina is pH balanced to accept only the most macho of y-alleles (and only a rare x-swimmer). She bears Geoffrey two boys, one who dies with his father during the pox.

After Geoffrey dies, Skye is left unprotected, as the wicked Queen Bess forces Skye to be her beloved Earl of Lessessester, er, anywho, Lord Robert Dudley’s plaything. A little bestiality is hinted at as the awful Robert uses his servants as sex slaves to be used by his friends. But not Skye. Skye, he will abuse for his own purposes and not in a fun way. Dudley rapes Skye until he’s had his use of her, and she’s left traumatized.

After her awful arrangement with Dudley, Skye shies away from men—no, not really. She gets involved in some smuggling and shipping with another Lord, Adam De Marisco, an Englishman. For some reason, my favorite of Skye’s men was Adam, who was a nice, laughing guy with a beard who made sex pleasurable for Skye again (which to be fair, wasn’t that difficult of a task). He was like a big teddy bear, no arrogance, no baggage, just pure fun. Adam soothes Skye’s hurts and gives her passion without entanglements. Why she didn’t end up with him in this book is beyond me. But he’ll make a return in the series, and I like what happened with him in All the Sweet Tomorrows.

But remember that lusty wife Niall had? Well, now, she’s near-death because she’s suffering from the pox. Not Niall, though. He’s STD-free because that lucky guy gets to be this book’s hero, so having sex with a woman who had sex with hundreds of men doesn’t even make it hurt when he pees. Not even a weird itching!

All things fall into place, so Niall and Skye find their way back into each other’s arms. The dull, boring hero, Niall, gets his beautiful, perfect, sexual, rich, fecund, brilliant (yeah, that last one was a stretch) Skye O’Malley.

After bearing her assorted lovers and husbands (6 if you’re counting; it seems like more only because, to be fair, Skye does engage in a lot of sex) 5 children (and she’ll have more kids to come), her figure, and her moist cavern of love, remain tiny and petite, unchanging despite age, births or time. This book is a romp. Not meant to be taken deeply because if you do, you might experience heartbreak. Especially ***SPOILER ALERT***in book #2, where Niall passes away, Skye ends up with Adam. Not me; I hated Niall. He was dull as Q tip. Adam was definitely a better choice.

I am so glad I read this book when I was well into my twenties because if I had read this as a teen, my poor little heart wouldn’t have been able to take it. One woman having that many men she all truly loved and in such a short amount of time (relatively), in a romance novel! Thankfully, with maturity comes the ability to relax and not take everything so seriously, and “Skye O’Malley” is not a book to be taken seriously. It’s so bad, yet so good, yet so bad… which is the best of qualities in an old bodice ripper. I didn’t love this book, but I had a ball reading it, and that’s all that matters.

4 stars for the WTFery

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Originally reviewed at Goodreads.com

Bodice Ripper Review: “A Lady Bought With Rifles” by Jeanne Williams

A Lady Bought With RiflesA Lady Bought With Rifles by Jeanne Williams

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

SPOILER WARNING

A Lady Bought With Rifles is an amalgam of great writing and stupid characterization that I was extremely frustrated reading it because it could have been one of those legendary bodice rippers that old school fans would be talking about to this day.

Upon the death of her father, British raised Miranda is called back to her father’s ranch in Mexico. There she meets two strikingly different American men, Trace, a mysterious pistolero, and Court Saunders, the foreman of Miranda’s newly inherited mines and lover to her resentful half-sister, Reina. Blond, panther-like and roguish, his sensual presence is almost irresistible.

The sisters both inherit the ranch. Miranda, being a foreigner, is aghast by the circumstances of the ranch and mines, particularly how the indigenous Mexicans are treated, how the evil Reina treats her, how gorgeous hunk Court pursues her…and just about every other thing she can find to complain about, rightly or wrongly.

Both Court and Trace take an interest in Miranda, but while Trace maintains an enigmatic distance it’s the Court who vows to make her his woman. Miranda quickly decides she loves Trace, the noble yet enigmatic, gunman. Me, I’ll take wicked, sexy Court.

This was not a bad novel, however, I absolutely loathed the heroine. She ruined what could have been a fun read into painful torture at times. I have never wanted to smack a protagonist as much as I have Miranda. She is ignorant of the new lands but thinks she knows better than everyone else before even asking for advice. She is inflexible, a misguided do-gooder (the type who’s always offended on someone else’s behalf) and–the worst sin of all–she has terrible taste in men. Sure Trace is appealing, with his darkly handsome cowboy looks, but it is Court who offers her genuine help. It’s Court who sticks around, who cares for her and her lands, while it’s Trace who goes off on escapades of his own, who is not even half as charismatic as Court and who has a sexual relationship with the woman he and Miranda cared for as a child!

Court offers marriage to Miranda after Trace runs off. Miranda flees, but when Court finds her she vows to resist him at every turn and does everything to deny her attraction to his intense magnetism.

“When I heard you were almost surely dead, that’s when I knew what you were to me. My woman. You rode back to me from the dead. I’ll never let you go again.”

Weak and spent, I said desperately, as if I were shouting at him in a foreign language, “You don’t love me or you’d care what I feel!”

“I do care. In a year you’ll love me.”

Even at that moment, when I hated him, my blood quickened as he smiled. I cried defiance as much to my treacherous body as to him. “I won’t. I’ll hate you more than I do know. “

“We’ll see.” He cupped my chin and raised my face. “You’re tired daring. Sleep now. You can give me your answer in the morning.”

I couldn’t let him kill Trace. But to submit to those muscular, golden-haired arms? Let him do the things Trace had? And it wouldn’t be for one time only, I was sure of that. Court might after a season let me go, but I had a frightening dread that if he possessed me long enough, he would drain me till I became his thing, his creature—that I wouldn’t go, even if he allowed it and Trace would take me.

And this super charismatic hunk is the villain???

Several points. Most romances at this time this book was written in 1977 had heroes who acted exactly as Court did and heroines who responded to their heroes (and yes, sometimes villains) just as Miranda does: “with her treacherous body.” I’m a bit familiar with Williams’ writing style as I’ve read another of her works. If she had written romances in the current year, her values would be more in line with the genre as it is today. I’m making a guess that Williams purposely turned the tables on the way historical romance novels (i.e. the bodice ripper) were written during the 1970’s. She wanted to write a bodice ripper that subverted expectations to make it compelling, but she just “Rian Johnsoned” it instead. (Yeah, The Last Jedi fans, I went there.)

Rather than ending with wildly sexual, devoted Court, a man who would walk through the fires of hell and back to get his woman, was more “macho” than “sensitive” it’s the tough but tender guy who abandons his woman and child to fight a war that isn’t his, who gets the heroine.

The two men are not so distinctly different as perhaps the author meant for the reader to feel: Court evil and Trace good. It’s more nuanced than that and it’s a risky line for the writer to tread because then the villain becomes more intriguing than the hero.

I compare to “A Lady Bought With Rifles” to Drusilla Campbell’s “The Frost and the Flame” and Anita Mill’s “Lady of Fire” because the villains in those books were much more compelling than the heroes. ALBWR is less fun than “The Frost and the Flame” and in “Lady of Fire” I actually liked the hero.

The great difference is in those two books is that the villain was undoubtedly villainous. Here Court is the antagonist, I wouldn’t call him the villain. For example, despite major doubts that his son is actually his (he’s not, Trace is) Court treats the boy with love and care. That is until Miranda cruelly throws it into Court’s face that he is not the father, and then, for the most part, Court ignores him, simply counting the days until the boy is to be sent off to boarding school. This leaves Miranda upset and befuddled. “Why oh why has Court’s behavior changed?” Gee, what could it be, you stupid cow? Court knew the kid wasn’t really his son, as Court could do basic math. Still, he was willing to pretend that the son of another man—a man he despised—was his, so long as Miranda went along with the pretense. When she viciously admits to Court that he wasn’t the father, did she really expect Court to react with glee?

I can’t emphasize enough how just hated her stupid, self-centered, sanctimonious character. Court was way too good for her. He warranted his own story with a happy ending. But Williams didn’t want that. As the author that was her decision. As the reader, it was not one I appreciated.

Like many older romance novels, this is truly a romance in the complete meaning of the word: an epic of great scope. Ostensibly the main part should be the love story between Trace and Miranda, yet it’s actually a much smaller part of the story that makes up the book.

In summary, as I wrote in my notes:

Take one exasperating, young, self-righteous heroine. Add one hero who spends 50 pages max with the heroine, disappears halfway through and is reunited with said heroine 10 pages from the end. Add a plethora of side characters whose deaths are used to manipulate sympathy for the annoying heroine. Add one sexy-as-hell, multifaceted villain/anti-hero whose downfall brought me to tears. Mix with uneven pacing and plotting.

End result: über disappointing 3 1/2 star read. I would have rated this 2 1/2 stars, but the writing is quite exceptional, and Court…

SIGH

…Wonderfully erotic, tragically misunderstood Court deserved so much better than he got.

C+

Originally posted on Goodreads.com

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Bodice Ripper Review: “Love, Cherish Me” by Rebecca Brandewyne

Love, Cherish Me (Aguilar's Fate, #1)Love, Cherish Me by Rebecca Brandewyne

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I read Love, Cherish Me many years ago, and it’s a long-time favorite.

You have to read this book as a lover of the genre because Rebecca Brandewyne is here at her bodice-rippiest. What I loved about Rebecca Brandewyne’s old romances was that she would always pose dressed as the heroine in her picture on the back of the book. There would be a poem at the beginning, and the book would be broken up into several books or parts. The story began with a prologue with the couple together and ended with their epilogue. And let’s not forget the Elaine Duillo cover art, which was practically de rigeur for a romance diva. What can I say, I’ve always preferred intricate, elaborate heavy metal or progressive rock as opposed to streamlined, gritty punk, and my taste in romances is no different.

The heroine is southern belle Storm Aimee Lesconflair and the hero is the dark stranger called “Lobo,” or Wolf. The tale is epic, set in the epic state of Texas. Storm is abducted and almost raped by villains, saved by Wolf multiple times, separated from her beloved, accused of murder and experiences the worst pain a mother can feel and finally is reunited with her soul mate.

This is a companion piece to And Gold Was Ours, which was good but not as great as this. The only Brandewyne book I like more is her gothic romance reminiscent of Bronte’s Wuthering HeightsUpon a Moon-Dark Moor.

A

Originally posted on Goodreads

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Bodice Ripper Review: “Dangerous Obsession” by Natasha Peters

Dangerous ObsessionDangerous Obsession by Natasha Peters

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

“You will travel far to find love, only to find that love has traveled with you.”

Dangerous Obsession is the sequel to Natasha Peters’ first book, Savage Surrender, although the relation between the books is not revealed until midway through this 630-page epic.

Like so many great bodice rippers of epic scope, Dangerous Obsession takes us through various years and continents. It spans 12 years in the life of Rhawnie, the blonde daughter of a gypsy and a Russian noblewoman. Rhawnie is not a simpering, treacly-sweet girl or spunky, foot-stamping heroine. She lies for the hell of it: to strangers, to the people she loves, she lies to herself, she even lies on her (near) deathbed! She is an unrepentant thief. Early on Rhawnie is caught stealing from an innkeeper and Seth, the hero, is forced to remove the purloined items hidden under her petticoats: a bottle of vodka, a wheel of cheese, a large loaf of bread, several sausages, a large knife, and a whole chicken! When caught red-handed she denies ever touching the stuff and accuses the innkeeper of framing her. In this Rhawnie reminds me a bit of my daughter who lives by the motto: “Admit nothing, deny everything and make counter-accusations.”

Rhawnie is not just a mere mortal…she is beautiful, a professional thief, a fortune-teller, a gambler, a card cheat, men duel and die over her, she is mistress to a king, a threat to a nobleman’s power, a baroness, a world-famous singer, a saloon owner, savior of an orphan and a wronged woman, and the love-object of two brothers, who are as opposite as day and night.

The male protagonist, Seth Garrett, is a piece of work and it took me a long time to warm up to him. He’s no Sean Culhane from Stormfire or Domenico from The Silver Devil, but he’s both cruel and vicious and unfeeling and cold. He wins the right to Rhawnie’s virginity in a card game, but passes on the offer, as she is only 14 or 15. In angry retaliation, Rhawnie gets beaten and kicked by her lecherous older uncle and Seth just sort of stands there. Then when her uncle rapes her a few pages later, Seth is too late to save her–even though he’s in the next room and can hear what’s going on. He destroys any chance Rhawnie has for legitimacy in Paris society by publicly claiming her as his mistress. And what Seth does in Chapter 10 simply calls for a karmic justice which never occurs. But he does properly declare himself at the end and gives himself completely to Rhawnie. Seth is not perfect, but neither is Rhawnie, so together they are perfect.

Dangerous Obsession is written in 1st person POV, but as Rhawnie is a great narrator, with so many wonderful quips and observations, this did not detract. There was an appropriate blend of action and introspection, but no excessive self-absorption of feeling too often found in modern romances.

However, the action does get a bit too much at the end. The book is a hefty door-stopper and could have been 50 pages shorter. Rhawnie and Seth embark on a search for Seth’s missing sister that takes them through the American West. They get on TWO different boats that explode and sink into the river, Seth gets injured and Rhawnie nurses him back to life, Rhawnie gets cholera, so Seth has to nurse her back to life (on a regiment on camphor, cannabis, and caviar, no less). They travel for months through the mountains and have many misadventures, she survives a great fire, gets kidnapped, addicted to laudanum, gets rescued…and before you know it–whew!–it’s over.

This book was so close to perfect, but like so many bodice rippers, at the end, it falters under its own hefty weight. It’s a 4 1/2 star read, but I’m rounding it up to a 5 solely on the basis of the heroine, Rhawnie, who is all kinds of awesome.

A-

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Originally posted on Goodreads