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 Romance Review: “Lady of Fire” by Anita Mills

Lady Of Fire by Anita Mills

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

“Lady of Fire” is one of my favorite historical romance novels. I fully admit that it has its flaws, especially toward the end, but even so, I love it. It takes place in Normandy, not long after William the Bastard has conquered England. Eleonor of Nantes is a renowned beauty, hungered by many and bartered as a political pawn. William’s son Henry desires her as his wife, but it’s the man she believes to be her half-brother, Roger Fitz Hugh, for whom she’s destined.

Roger knows Eleonor is not his sister and has always loved her. Eleonor doesn’t know, yet she desires Roger. This fact may be off-putting to some. But knowing they’re not siblings, it was easy for me to overlook this semi-incest.

For complete disclosure, let it be known that I love blond heroes. I married one in real life and adore them in fiction. Roger is one of the sweetest, kindest, most loving heroes I’ve ever read. His devotion to Eleonor is undeniable and he and Eleonor are meant to be. However… he is not the reason that I’m crazy about this book.

The villain Robert Talvas, Count of Belesme, with his black hair, green eyes, and evil, evil disposition positively steals the show. He is so hot that every scene with him singes the pages of this book. Robert is absolutely malevolent and beyond redemption. He coolly lies to priests and nuns, sleeps with his mother, rapes without remorse, and murders innocents. In the sequel Fire and Steel Robert is so evil he tears a baby out of his mother’s womb killing them both! Robert is the devil incarnate in this story and is based on a Medieval legend.

But there is more to Robert, whose obsession for the lady Eleonor drives the plot. His unwavering love and reverence for her are spell-binding and captivating. In a bodice ripper written ten years earlier, Robert might have even been the hero. Disturbingly, despite the fact that he kidnaps and ravishes Eleonor, I found myself hoping, “I know you love Roger, but Eleonor, just once submit to Robert!” That’s a little sick, but that what’s Belesme character made me feel. She never does give in and I think that is one of the reasons that the dark Lord Robert adores Eleonor so much: for her purity and her goodness. I am so glad Anita Mills never redeemed him nor gave him a sequel to find love with another woman. In his heart, Robert was eternally faithful to Eleonor.

Robert does find a salvation of sorts in the sequel, which is an entertaining, if not as enjoyable, read.

For a writer to allow the villain to overshadow the protagonists may be a source of frustration to some readers, but Anita Mills does it so skillfully that I fell for it from beginning to end. To Robert’s great unfortunate downfall, Eleonor and Roger are destined for each other and that’s the way it should be.


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Originally published at Goodreads.com

Bodice Ripper Romance Review: “Escape Not, My Love” by Elaine Coffman

Escape Not My LoveEscape Not My Love by Elaine Coffman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Elaine Coffman’s “Escape Not My Love” was not my first venture into the world of romance, but it was my first historical romance novel. And for that, I am grateful.

Superficially, ENML drew me in from the outset. It had a stunning step-back cover, designed with a pattern of a woman’s purple and white flowered gown and opened to reveal the colorful protagonists clinched in a passionate embrace. (Thank God for that step-back! I first read this as I sat in church waiting for my turn to enter the confessional and talk to the priest. He didn’t know what kind of trashy book I was reading and I wasn’t about to volunteer that tidbit. Ha!)

The book quickly drew me in and I instantly fell in love with the genre. I found in historicals a frequent theme of this thrilling battle of the sexes that was lacking from most of the tame Harlequin Romances and modern Temptations I was used to. (I had yet to discover the Presents line).

While hardcore “bodice rippers” no longer dominated the market as they had in years past, in the early 1990’s most heroes in historical romances had not yet been gelded into modern-minded *ahem* wankers that are so prevalent today. I’m being snarky, and don’t mean to offend, but that’s just my no-holds-barred opinion. If contemporary readers prefer forward-thinking, sensitive gunslingers, Vikings, warriors, noblemen, etc., in their historicals, well as they say: Chacun à ses goûts, n’est-ce pas? I prefer my historical heroes to have a rougher edge.

Jay Culhane is a bounty hunter whose job is to travel deep into Mexico where armed criminals roam and bring home the well-meaning, but naive heroine, Jennifer Baxter, who moved from TX to open a school for underprivileged children. Jennifer is the youngest of 11 girls, spoiled and used to getting her way. So you know this book will be one loooong power play between the pair.

Jay kicks down the door of her little house when he first lays eyes upon her black-haired, violet eyed (of course!), lingerie-clad body. Lust takes over reason and he immediately orders Jenny to strip naked at gunpoint and then enjoys the show (‘cuz that’s the kind of guy he is).

Jay takes Jennifer on a long, arduous trip back to Texas. Yes, he’s occasionally violent, at times even abusive to Jenny (like tying her to the back of his horse and making her walk in the scorching midday sun, while he rides comfortably wearing a protective hat). He forces her to cook meals and punishes her with kisses (to which she responds with passion, of course!). Yet he also treats her sores and wounds with gentleness, not-to-mention some ill-hidden guilt. He kills snakes for her when she cries out in terror and unflinchingly murders renegade bandidos who try to kidnap and rape Jennifer.

When I first read this novel I was twelve years old, my parents had just divorced, so I had begun to immerse myself in books for escape. It sounds a bit trite to say a romance changed my life–and I won’t be so extreme as to go that far–but this book definitely influenced me in a profound way. It gave me something to look forward to and enjoy: hope. The love story between Jay and Jennifer is phenomenal.

Elaine Coffman’s writing is so rich and lyrical; I’m still moved by it every time I read it; and yes, I cry every time I read that beautiful, sweet ending.

I will mention that if you really want to see this old-school love story portrayed at its best, read the original, not the re-issue that came out several years later. “Jay-lite” isn’t as sexy as the tortured, lone-wolf of the 1990 version. I dislike the fact that many romance writers think readers are bored or offended by the “traditionally macho” heroes of old. Tortured, abusive man-hoes are accepted in dark eroticas, most contemporary New Adults and lots of paranormals–where anything can happen–while men who lived 100, 500, or 1,000 years ago all have to be represented as ultra-sensitive proto-feminists. The fact that historicals have SNAG-(Sensitive New Age Guys) type heroes is something that makes me very wary every time I read a book published in the new millennium.

Yup, I’m an old fart, what can I say?

Nostalgia may have a bit to do with my ratings of older books; nevertheless, as I’ve read this many times over the years, for me it holds up well. However, if you don’t like cruel heroes who treat the heroine nastily from the get-go, keep in mind that Jay was tormented by a devastating past. It his love for Jennifer that teaches him to let go of the old hurts. The epilogue might have you reaching for your hankies and make you smile at the same time witnessing how tough Jay Culhane has settled down into married life with children.

I wasn’t the only reader who loved this book. “Escape Not My Love” (in its original un-PC form) won the 1990 Romantic Times Reviewers Choice Award for Western Historical Romance.

5 stars for the major enjoyment of this, my first historical romance.

Originally posted at Goodreads.com
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Bodice Ripper Review: “Surrender to Love” by Rosemary Rogers

Surrender To LoveSurrender To Love by Rosemary Rogers

My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Rosemary Rogers, the Grande Dame Of Bodice Rippers wrote a few exceptional epics, but alas, this isn’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 just hates convention and 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. Her attitude is very draining. But worse are the random 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 mania slipping though. The writing was erratic, the POV changed without warning from within paragraphs…and did I mention those italics!

I definitely get a sense of Alexa’s instability with her long internal rants or when she’s scratching the hero Nicholas’s face off or sobbing hysterically in front of him.

The tempo in this book a bit more sluggish than the other Rogers books I’ve encountered, even the deeply introspective the Wildest Heart.The pacing is very slow there’s no consummation until page 337 of this 612-page brick, which ticked me off.

It turned around a bit after Part Two, but it was rough starting out a book with 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 show or two.

Eventually, I saw where Rogers was going with the plot: it’s the tale of a woman who defies the stifling conventions of Victorian Era though 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” about a “beautiful, rebellious girl, with very independent and progressive views for that time (i.e., she has sex with another man besides the hero)” who looks and acts just like Alexa.

 photo alondra1.jpg


Random observations:

All the Viscounts of this and that running around did get confusing…

Nicholas was too nebulous. Despite learning the history with his first wife, I didn’t understand him.

As always, Rogers drew upon themes of women’s liberation, but this time it came on a bit thick. Yes, Alexa, being a woman in the 19th century was stifling and oppressive, but if you were part of the wealthy upper class, beautiful & widowed—like Alexa was—she had privileges that the average woman of the time did not share. Alexa’s rash impetuosity was her major flaw. She never thought her out actions first.

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:

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The first two hundred pages could have been condensed to half that and the ending was weird–not the “trial” and whipping which was awesome–but Alexa’s engagement and glossed-over consummation with Charles and then her marriage to Nicholas.

The villains in this one weren’t very interesting, although I liked Alexa’s evil grandma, but she was like the diet coke of evil; just one calorie; not evil enough. Same opinion of the Marquess. But as long as I kept imaging Mexican actress Beatriz Sheridan as the evil dowager Marchioness, I had a good time with that villainess.

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I gave this book 2 1/2 stars, but rounded up to 3 because the pluses slightly outweighed the negatives in this one. But those italics, made it difficult!

C-

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