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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What She Says With Her Eyes

cover

An excerpt from What She Says With Her Eyes 

“Marie, do you know who that man in grey is?” Zephryne asked.

Cherie, he’s the very one you came here for!” Marie’s gold-bronze curls bounced as she turned a curious gaze at her friend. “That is your mysterious Monsieur Mardour; the Englishman who seeks dear Françoise’s hand.” She studied the subtle change in Zephryne’s bland expression. “Do you fancy him?”

“No!” Zephryne sputtered, indignant. “I saw him earlier, and he– He looked at me rather cruelly and…”

“And now his disdain has excited you?” Marie gave a cheeky grin. “Has his antipathy sparked your desire? He dislikes you, so now you want him! What a delightful game to play, the chase.”

“It’s nothing like that,” Zephryne denied, the words sounding unconvincing to herself.

“Don’t lie to me, amie. Despite your occasional lapses into prudery, you’re a woman still.”

“Nonsense! Unlike a slattern like yourself, my lovers have not numbered in the hundreds…but to call me a prude? You see how Pierre adores me.”

“Yes, and you tease him quite mercilessly! You have no appetite for what offers, yet you dangle him about like an uneaten sausage!”

“You exaggerate,” Zephryne said, not daring to acknowledge Marie’s truths. “Nor do I want anything to do with that Englishman!” She calmed with herself a deep breath. “My aim is to remove him entirely from Françoise’s life.”

Zephryne regarded him from afar as he approached a group of elegantly clad gentleman at a table to their left. Since she knew he was a  former military man, it was evident in his bearing and figure. Broad shoulders and large arms filled the charcoal-grey jacket, the cloth stretching at his chest. The simple cut of his clothes and the demure nature of his dress marked him different from all those around him. There was no lazy, indolent air about him as the others displayed. His body was rigid; his hands close to his sides, in particular to the sword at his left hip. He appeared tense and on guard as if he expected violence to break out at a moment’s notice.

“So that is the attaché to the English ambassador?” There was an unusual timbre in her voice, one that Marie did not miss.

“Yes. Rather plain individual, isn’t he?” Marie’s all-seeing eyes again perused Zephryne’s face. “He seems so reserved. It’s as if he has something to hide.”

“He does, the fiend! He preys on young, innocent girls to wheedle their fortunes from them!” Zephryne snapped.

Marie threw her head back and laughed. “Françoise? Innocent? Oh, how humorous!”

She continued to laugh, so much that she had to dab her kerchief to her eyes to stem the tears of mirth. “Ma petite, I understand you tried your best to raise Françoise, but you were a child yourself!”

Zephryne could not look away from him. There was an air of mystery about him, a strange reserve that hinted at hidden depths.

A plan, heretofore half-formed, was now clear in her mind.

She would seduce him away from her former step-daughter by whatever ever means at her disposal: with lies, with false hopes, and, yes, with her body.

Zephryne with her lush, round figure, lovely dark eyes, and small, pouting lips had no difficulties in attracting the admiration of males. Moreover, she had been raised to know just how to entice a man.

Her beauty had brought her to the attention of the Comte d’Aubèrge, but it was her intellect that had made her his second bride.

If Zephryne wanted a man, she knew she could get him.

…Coming Winter 2021…

The Savage Noble

The Savage Noble Cover

The Savage Noble

A thrilling Regency-era romance about Lord Justin Tollemache, a cruel and vain Earl who thought he could have everything or everyone he desired, and Miss Linnet Talbot, the one woman who would deny him at every turn… Until he devised a ruthless scheme to ensnare her into his clutches, only to find they were both caught in a trap from which neither would escape.

…Coming This Winter 2021…

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

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