Neo-Bodice Rippers

I posted this at my blog and wanted to see if I could get a discussion started about this. Men unabashedly embrace their pulp-fiction roots. Why can’t women?

Neo-Bodice Rippers

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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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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