It was a good read for about 5/7ths of it. The main characters of Adam & Dulcie were given ample time to develop, although Adam had more attention...moreIt was a good read for about 5/7ths of it. The main characters of Adam & Dulcie were given ample time to develop, although Adam had more attention with a backstory & more likeable character. The subplot of Tom & his quadroon wife, Ullah, & the repercussions of their run-in with the villainous Edmund Revanche linked different stages of the story with a measure of cohesion. It was also refreshing to read a romance where hero & heroine don't dominate every single page. The first 60+ pages of the book is Tom & Ullah's doomed story & sets up the dark side of Adam's character & his white whale, Revanche. Once Adam & Dulcie unite, their relationship & the cast of characters that surrounded them were, for the most part, engaging.
However, for a story that takes place during the Civil War, it didn't seem to be that prominent, disappearing altogether around page 500 or so when the story took a downturn in quality & tone & became vintage bodice ripper with the shipwreck & imprisonment of Dulcie on a Caribbean island with a cast of characters that would make Tod Browning proud: A voodoo rivalry between a pidgin-speaking old hag & a deformed, cackling man-child called Lucifer, with Dulcie caught in the middle & abused by all quarters. All that was missing was Lon Chaney, and even then there was a deranged patriarch of a spooky plantation that has Chaney written all over it. This weird brew also includes lesbian overtones & repeated rape, & the interlude becomes the catalyst for deliberate misunderstandings & contrived separations between hero & heroine for the rest of the book until it is all wrapped up tidily in the span of a few pages...with an out for the inevitable sequel, of course. What began as refreshing & not what I expected from the stereotypical 1970s bodiceripper ended up becoming typical & formulaic of its genre.
I discovered afterwards that a book called Bitter Eden by Sharon Salvato says on the cover, "by the co-author of The Black Swan" so perhaps the odd turns in the book & the sometimes contradictory characterizations of Adam & Dulcie were caused by having two authors with two different approaches. Despite all this, it read fast & I'm eager to read the sequel, Mossrose, hoping that character continuity has improved & plot situations aren't so contrived.
UPDATED 1/15/11: You know what? Screw being miffed with the switch in tone with the voodoo. I've read lots of OTT WTFery in bodice rippers since, and I've acquired a real liking for it. I re-read the voodoo island part recently and saw it with completely different eyes. So this bitch gets 5 stars. Solid.(less)
My first gay historical romance! Are they always this good? Probably not, darn it. While this is indeed a romance in part, there's also lots of advent...moreMy first gay historical romance! Are they always this good? Probably not, darn it. While this is indeed a romance in part, there's also lots of adventure and a fine cast of characters that surround the story's couple. There are gritty period details aplenty, along with a gloomy and deadly pall that hangs over men who dared to love the wrong gender.
John Cavendish is the son of a carousing dad and a strict Quaker woman. Because he senses he's not "normal," he shuns all sexuality and devotes himself to his naval career. He's stalwart and dependable, traits which give him a mission from the Admiralty to be sitting ducks against the Corsairs in order to provide martyrs and the moral high ground to retaliate. However, his lieutenant, Alfie Donwell, gets captured by the Corsairs and John's feelings for him cause Cavendish to go all out to get him back. (It's only what any responsible captain would do for his officers, John tells himself.) The result - Corsair ass gets kicked but good - is quite against the Admiralty's expectations, and Cavendish finds himself a tolerated embarrassment within the Navy. He goes about restoring his standing in the priggish and upright way he only knows, but with the added irritation of the impulsive and handsome Alfie under his skin.
The two men are separated for quite a bit of the book, but are rarely out of each others' thoughts, whether out of anger or longing. Alfie has prodded into the light impulses within John that he has striven for years to smother, and John seemed like "the one" to Alfie, who is tired of settling for demeaning substitutes for the love he longs for. John's revulsion and Alfie's anger at John (and himself for wanting what society will not allow him to have) provide the tension throughout the story until the end when they get a hopeful, but by no means certain, HEA. In an era when sodomy would get you hanged, these two naval officers have no guarantee of a permanent HEA and there is no indication that either of them wishes to leave their careers behind, because the sea is as much a part of them as their love for each other.
I LOVED this book. The author assails the reader with nautical terminology, but I didn't find it all that onerous to read through. I don't know the difference between a topgallant and a staysail, but I didn't care. The action rips along at a good clip, the danger comes at all sides from pirates, Corsairs, the French, and the Arctic elements, and the drama aboard ship and on land more than compensates for the daze of terminology.
There is no real "villain" of the piece. The back of the book implies that it's a man from Alfie's past, but he is a very sympathetic character in his own way. His defiant and exhibitionist conduct, combined with self-hatred and selfishness, is what propels Alfie through the still and stormy waters of his relationship with Cavendish. This trio of characters display all the murky, damaged and, quite frankly, heartbreaking contortions gay men went through. Options are limited, so they go through a struggle to settle for what you can get at the cost of your honor and wellbeing, or aspire for the perfect. The villain of the story is really Homophobia and the Code of Conduct in His Majesty's Fleet (or whatever it was called). With such a monolith as an enemy, it would have been easy for the tone to get super-preachy. Amazingly, it didn't.
It's not a "pretty" book by any means. It's not a fluffy, feel-good read where our heroes defy all of society's laws and do it in the open and convert haters into supporters. The scene in the "Molly club" where John decides to give in to his lust with a rotten-toothed roughneck made me cringe, but only because I'd already come to care for the guy and hated to see him head down that path. John and Alfie were characters I could get behind and root for, and every agony they went through made that final scene all the more sweet. They hurt each other with their attraction, with spite and regret, as they try to hammer out what it is they want, expect, and need. Apart from emotional agony, they both go through some excruciating physical tortures! Yikes. Reminder to self: don't ever get captured by Corsairs or pirates. Because there's going to be lots of blood and mangling.
Normally I can't abide Big Misunderstandings and the last half of this book hinges on them. While it irritated me at first, I had to remind myself that the relationship in this story wasn't the usual hetero one where society put no restraints on men and women acknowledging such feelings for one another. This was a whole different setup, with men acting out of pride, honor, and fear over a very dangerous matter. The lack of communication, exacerbated by separations, seemed right in the end.
If you're willing to try a different kind of romance, and love period detail, then I highly recommend this one.(less)
Isabel of Hainault is a 10-year old girl who is...a bit messed up, to put it mildly. Her father and uncle have both dragged her down into the psycholo...moreIsabel of Hainault is a 10-year old girl who is...a bit messed up, to put it mildly. Her father and uncle have both dragged her down into the psychological pit of incest, to the point where she believes that her body is the only instrument she has to show love or pleasure. Developed well beyond her years, she is bartered off to King Philippe of France under her uncle's connivance, and the remainder of her pitifully short life is spent in one struggle after another: against her family, her in-laws, the Plantagenet dynasty, and most painfully for her, against her own husband. Both of them have a driving need for one another, a weakness they both indulge and loathe.
Fanciful? Oooh, a tad.
Artistic license? Duh.
There's lots here to turn off the usual HF reader, the preponderance of sex being one (along with references to glistening, just-visited c*nts and the gripping of hips for heights of pleasure-pain). From what I've gathered around the forums, that's not exactly most HFers' cuppa.
So there's plenty of sex, though not often explicit in the way we've become used to in current romance. Between Isabel and Philippe, not a man or woman goes unridden or fondled, and that includes the wide swath Philippe cuts through the Plantagenet boys: Harry, Richard, Geoffrey, and John.
Yes, this book has quite a hefty load of slash with sweaty beards, hot wet tongues probing open mouths and licking at sweaty skin, and straining manly muscles in plush beds. Again, not all that explicit unless even a reference to Teh Ghey raises ones' historical and moral hackles. Since I already was of the opinion that Geoffrey of Brittany and Philippe were more than vassal and lord, my glee was boundless that Jill Phillips whipped out her artistic license and waggled it in the reader's face.
It has amused me no end to look in the history books and read accounts of Philippe's grief-stricken attempt to throw himself onto Geoffrey's casket as it was being lowered down into the crypt in Notre-Dame, and then read the author's assertion that Philippe was obviously lamenting the loss of a clever ally. I can only imagine that if one of these historians (then and today) were handed a note from Philippe to Geoffrey saying, "You were INCREDIBLE last night!" historians would rationalize it as "the French king was deeply impressed by Geoffrey's strategy the night the Count of Brittany revealed his plans to retake Normandy from Henry II's control, and told him so in a brief note, as was his style."
And yeah, there's hetero sex, too. Lots of that. And with Philippe as well. Little manslut.
So what's this book about? It's a pretty loose plot, though chronological. At first it appears to be a novel about Isabel from her betrothal to Philippe onward. However, Philippe takes over the story and Isabel is unseen for long stretches. She is never far from Philippe's mind while he's tangling and wrangling with Henry II and plotting with Henry's sons against their father, but in the end, this book is really about the king of France. Even after Isabel dies, the story continues as Philippe embarks on the Third Crusade with Richard and ends with his death.
I actually thought the story picked up when Isabel was absent. Her character was pretty thin, though, on reflection, it was a good portrait of a soul who is a pawn and knows she's a pawn, so she scrabbles for love wherever she can get it. She's a clinging harridan, ruthless with her sexuality, and drives Philippe into fits of rage and counter-obsession, so she wasn't exactly likeable. Still, she was memorable and I had previously known nothing about her apart from her name and that she must be the one Richard was asking about in that deliciously slashy scene from The Lion in Winter.
(Can you tell I love that movie to bits? Do yourself a favor and rent the original version. None of that Patrick Stewart remake crap.)
In between all the supposings about who bounced in and out of whom's bed, there's plentiful history. It may be dull for some to read about the ins and outs of the various rebellions and intrigues that the Houses of Capet and Plantagenet plotted across the breadth of France. But I love the period and I love the characters involved, so I found it all very fascinating and page-turning. The detail wasn't laborious or drawn out, but was one-volume concise.
I suspect that the author was a fan of The Lion in Winter, play or film version, because the portrayals of Henry, Philippe, Richard and Geoffrey are very similar. (And how can that be a bad thing, I ask you.) In fact, the scenes with Henry and his sons had the same vitriol and end-of-life pathos that were so vivid in the film. I would even class this novel as Lion in Winter fanfiction, because it does bring in elements that fanfiction is known for/unafraid to tackle, and it's fun to read to boot. It provides what fans want: more of what they love, with a new twist or three.
Or maybe I'm such a fangirl that I'm seeing things that aren't there. Hmm...maybe. Does it matter?
Another plus was that in this Year of Eleanor [of Aquitaine], she's not present. Not that I don't like the lady, but every book about the era and the family has her front and center. *yawn* Given the time period of this book, the "bitch is in the keep" and is only seen once during a Christmas court. Thus the other characters are given a chance to take center stage, and they put on quite a show.
High literature? Not a chance. Very serious historical fiction? Hah, good one. It's silly and trashy and I thoroughly loved it. It'll probably stay on my keeper shelf so I can re-read scenes and have Peter O'Toole's voice in my head.
This definitely isn't a book for everybody, but if copious sex and incest don't faze you, then it might be worth your time.
Oh yeah, and there was some open-ended reference to necrophilia. So ummm...yeah. Be forewarned.
Rebecca Brandewyne is yet another author, along with Shirlee Busbee, who inexplicably escaped my first bodice-ripper reading binge back in high school...moreRebecca Brandewyne is yet another author, along with Shirlee Busbee, who inexplicably escaped my first bodice-ripper reading binge back in high school. Having read this book, I have a feeling that I would have enjoyed it just as much then as I did now, because it is written in a way that appeals to every sweeping, romantic notion a girl can have. If read in the right frame of mind, it can be a hell of a ride.
The plot is basically "Romeo and Juliet in Scotland." Mary Carmichael and Hunter MacBeth are two members of perpetually-warring clans, with raids and rapes the order of the day between them. In fact, when Hunter sees Mary for the first time in an abandoned cottage during a rainstorm, he thinks rape is the only possible course of action, while she thinks murder is a grand idea. Yet, the feisty maid makes an impression on MacBeth - and it's not just her violet "accursed Carmichael eyes." He shares the same eye color and they both feel the pull of destiny between them. They are destined to love each other and breach the hatred of the clans. The plot is about all the trials they endure to keep their love preserved when their respective families would rather the grand tradition of senseless slaughter be continued. There are dungeons, rapes, madness, second sight, prophecies and curses, Hungarian gypsies, defeating Turks outside Belgrade, ransoms, and a final ride to the rescue back in Scotland that would do D.W. Griffith proud.
Above all else, it is written in an unapologetic, romantic style. Purple prose abounds, scenes are described thoroughly, and our characters are straight out of a "no lovers have ever loved as these lovers loved" attitude. I could have been a sneering, cynical twat and laughed at it because I know I should call it dreck. However, I was carried away by it because it was so earnest. The emotions matched the "written in the stars" theme that pervaded the book from the first meeting between Hunter and Mary to the last HEA scene. If you like your heroes to be immensely in love - deeply and consumingly to the point of agony - then Hunter MacBeth is for you. He fairly took my breath away in some scenes, and the love between he and Mary that kept both going through all kinds of adversity had me hooked to know what they would have to endure next to make it to happiness. He's definitely a favorite hero of mine.
As larger-than-life as Hunter and Mary are, there's also quite a supporting cast. Some are better drawn than others, with the subplot of Mary's maid Joanna being the best of the lot. The main villain of the story, Hugh Carmichael, is what one would expect of a bodice-ripper villain - very unsubtle, with a closet of kinks and depravities. Every good true bodice-ripper should have a share of OTT OMG moments, and Hugh does his role admirably. There's also a couple stereotypical female characters whose dastardliness is indicated by their sexual deviance. It's all part of the old skool bodice-ripping fun, IMO.
Brandewyne had me thinking her facts were solid, but her Author's Note at the end says that she pretty much warped history to suit her own purposes and made up everything else (including the clan mottos, etc). Hey, it works for me if the romance grabs me enough, and this one surely did.
In all, this was a prime example of 1980s historical romance - sweeping prose and emotions that cover whole continents and nearly a decade of two lovers' lives. Check your cynical adulthood at the door, bring in your notebook-doodling teenage self, and enjoy.(less)
4.5 stars I was already predisposed to like this since Denys' The Flesh and the Devil blew me away. She'd had to have really screwed up to make me disl...more4.5 stars I was already predisposed to like this since Denys' The Flesh and the Devil blew me away. She'd had to have really screwed up to make me dislike it. In the end, this book was just as good.
The first person POV of the heroine didn't bug me at all (sometimes it does), and I thought it perfectly complemented the story of an illiterate tavern maid plucked out of her lowly life and station and placed among the glittering and utterly foreign court of the local Duke. She's adrift, uncertain, and scared, and the use of the first person conveyed her journey from innocent girl to entrapped (and enchanted) mistress perfectly. I also thought that it made Domenico just as attractively and terrifyingly mysterious to the reader (well, this one anyway!) as Felicia herself found him to be.
Denys wrote so many beautiful passages capturing Felicia's tormented thoughts and emotions in Domenico's web that it's impossible to quote them all, but suffice to say that the tone was very dark and gothic and evocative of the times without being detailed on the historical end of things. Even though I wasn't told every little thing about 16th century Italy and court etiquette and manners, the settings, characters, and atmosphere of paranoia, decadence, and bloody state rivalries were all very clear. It's one of those "I felt like I was right there" stories.
Also, while I'm not a fan of the hero grovel, I did enjoy this one immensely. Talk about grand gestures. It was just as broad and absolute as the story that came before it was dark and crazy, and the "staginess" of it (if you will) fit in with the melodramatic sweep of the plot and florid characters. Right from the get-go, it seemed like ripe material for an opera and I spent the entire book thinking of it in those terms. Made for a very pleasurable experience and inspired my dream cast.
I'm dinging it a half star for the last quarter of the book where the plot started to slog a bit and I was impatient for Domenico and Felicia to finally come to an open dialogue (for lack of a better term). Their pride really kept the grease from getting in the gears to keep things rolling.
Denys is a very studied writer, one of the very very few where I can see the painstaking care of her craft and not get annoyed at the artificiality of it. The sheer beauty of some of the passages, the way she can paint a scene, convey a glance or caress or whisper have few equals in my reading experience. She can couch the horrific and terrifying in such a way that it seems like a song (because in real life Domenico and Felipe Tristan in "The Flesh and the Devil" would have any sane woman running for the exits or grabbing a gun). She's a master of creating a beautiful blend of people and place and plots to make an intriguing, surreal "romance."
(The spoiler tag isn't for a spoiler, but contains my dream cast so the page doesn't go a mile long.)
(view spoiler)[All the passion, murder, torture, intrigue and war in snazzy Renaissance fashions had me thinking in operatic terms right off, so here's my dream cast.....
Besides having the obvious asset to play Domenico (and being my image of the glorious bastard before I even picked up the book), baritone Dmitri Hvorostovsky has the type of voice that would make you gladly shed your virtue, inhibitions, and moral compass.
Sticking with the Russians, I'd cast Anna Netrebko as Felicia. Bit of Hollywood casting, operatic version, but she'd do justice to the part. And she can sing on her back, so that's a plus. ;-)
For Domenico's bastard brother Alessandro, a resentful and rapacious playboy, I envision a lyric tenor (just because they always get the girl, the baritones don't, and this is my opera). Since he even looks like Sandro (square, dark, coarsening features), Marcelo Álvarez will do nicely:
Now, Piero. Oh Piero! I loved this guy. He is Domenico's former lover (woot!) and wants Felicia even before Domenico can discard her, just so he can have part of Domenico again. (How hot and twisted is that?) So the role goes to my new opera peep, spinto tenor Jonas Kaufmann. As well as being hella pretteh, he can sing, too (Holy Heldentenor, Batman! It's been a long time since Wagner's twin sister-lovin' hero both looked and sounded so hot.):
Ippolito, Domenico's secretary and Felicia's faithful adherent, is definitely for a sweet-voiced tenor. Can't get any sweeter than Juan Diego Flórez:
Maddalena, Domenico's discarded mistress who he tosses to Alessandro like a bone to an slavering dog, is a no-brainer. Someone with a raging inner bitch is required, and this soprano can just tap into the dwama that is her marriage and diva-among-divas career behavior. So, Angela Gheorghiu:
And since every opera needs a bass, that's going to be the Archbishop, who is the only thing standing between Domenico's dukedom and retribution by the Pope, and is an inveterate schemer. Ferruccio Furlanetto could probably sink his teeth into the role and steal the show, like he usually does with anything he touches:
If you got this far, thanks for humoring me. Opera fans need to geek out occasionally, too. Sorry there was no Gerard Butler. Sometimes he simply can't be shoehorned into a part. ;-) (And calling his singing "operatic", as I have seen bandied about here and there, makes Verdi spin in his grave. Y'all should be ashamed.) (hide spoiler)]["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
It's 1865, and Adam and Dulcie Tremain go back to Georgia to rebuild Dulcie's home, Mossrose, which was burned by Sherman's troops in the war. What th...moreIt's 1865, and Adam and Dulcie Tremain go back to Georgia to rebuild Dulcie's home, Mossrose, which was burned by Sherman's troops in the war. What they discover is a grieving land that's become rotten and a carrion feast for circling vultures. The Klan is in high gear, its ranks filled with Those Who Won't Forget and drunk with the anonymous power its robes and tactics create. A plot is early revealed, speared by Edmund Revanche (Tremain's nemesis from the preceding book "The Black Swan") and assisted by grasping and corrupt locals, to set up a store and extend credit to any and all. Since it involves Revanche (whose nastiness was well-established in the last book), their intentions are far from noble - namely, to pick over the bones of what's left in the neighborhood with an aim to keeping the newly-freed black folk under their heels and snatch up as much land as possible by calling in the debts. Adam, a southerner at heart but a pragmatic loyalist after the surrender, finds himself in square opposition to the corruption which threatens to ruin the South past all hope of rebuilding. With him and against him are an array of characters with stories and subplots of their own as they survive or perish in the post-war upheaval.
IMO, this book was better, far better, than "The Black Swan" (which was pretty darned good, give or take a couple oddities). [One carp: Southern drawls and slave lingo are still written out phonetically, which reads hilariously at times, but after awhile it's easy to plow through long paragraphs of dialogue with nary a hitch.] In this book, I liked the fact that Adam and Dulcie were not antagonists and Big Misunderstandings and Long Separations did not occur on The Slightest of Pretexts. Very little happened among any of the characters where I rolled my eyes or wanted to slap them aside the head. The Tremains are happily married and fiercely dedicated to one another, with Adam encouraging Dulcie to become independent and his partner in all things, rather than cling to the affectations of a southern belle. Since Dulcie is finding the habit of others to carry on as though the war never happened quite stifling, she lets her feisty flag fly and the scenes where she butts heads with "the old guard" put her victimization during that bizarre voodoo island interlude from "The Black Swan" into the dark where it belongs. For the first time, she sees the selfish cruelty her class is capable of, to their former slaves as well as to their own families, and she bucks it with a will that scandalizes her neighbors and makes Adam love her more.
Despite Adam and Dulcie being the H/h of the book, I found the subplot of the Northern freewoman Kyra Jordan to be the main page-turner. Dedicated to the monumental task of educating a population kept in ignorance by slavery, she meets everything head-on - from attacking Klansman with a longknife to barging into a drug den/child brothel. Her frustration with the people she hopes to educate, and their suspicion of her educated ways, create a great deal of the book's atmosphere, as the reader is shown just how miserable and hopeful Reconstruction was for all involved. She is a perfect counterpart to Adam, who wants to rebuild the South with justice and equality, but finds his opposition from the white quarter.
Towards the end, the revenge plots became a bit dull and OTT bodiceripper, but the resolution was neatly tied in with the beginning of "The Black Swan" and the murder of the slave woman, Ullah. The scene is macabre and gothic and quite creepy. The final scene is left with an unstated promise to continue the series, but AFAIK, this never happened.
Overall, I recommend this book to those who love their historical romances erring on the side of historical rather than romance. There are a few sex scenes, but not very graphic, and this isn't your usual bodiceripper. I'm beginning to see why some romance fans get peeved when everything remotely "historical romance" gets slapped with that label. Covers are often deceptive, and until you read the book, it's impossible to know just what's in it. In "Mossrose", Day Taylor gives a page-turning yarn about the best and worst of Black and White in the Reconstruction South.
This book review has been provided by the No Book Left Behind Campaign! A Bodice Ripper Readers Anonymous group initiative to review the un-reviewed!(less)
Oh Steve and Ginny....you two totally demented and effed-up-codependent crazy kids. How I love you so!
As if my ratings haven't been obvious, I love Ro...moreOh Steve and Ginny....you two totally demented and effed-up-codependent crazy kids. How I love you so!
As if my ratings haven't been obvious, I love Rosemary Rogers. She's the kind of author who throws you into the passenger seat of some big ol' land yacht of a 70s car, assumes the wheel fueled on some kind of alternate reality and suspect white powder, and decides to challenge Frank Bullitt to a road race. (And I'm pretty sure that it would be McQueen who would plow into that fuel stockpile and get blowed up real good.)
At least that's what it feels like when I read her books. Periodically, I slump back - slackjawed and dopey from sensory overload and the roller coaster hate-lust of the characters - but I'm soon bitchslapped awake as Rosemary tromps on the gas and off we go again.....wheeeeeee! She's relentless and unapologetic and I totally love that about her.
Despite the rape, gang rape, and the hero-whipped-into-a-piece-of-bloody-meat-and-branded-and-imprisoned scene in Sweet Savage Love - yes, despite all that! - it still surprised me with the lack of OTTWTF craziness that Dominic and Marisa had delivered in Wicked Loving Lies from stem to stern. But Dark Fires was a crazy train of a book, with moments aplenty that reminded me a lot of Dominic and Marisa's nasty and dysfunctional relationship. Mean and naaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaasty moments. And I ate it all up.
So what's this second installment in the Steve & Ginny saga all about? What are you doing for the next hour? Because, gentle Reader, it is so packed full of nasty meanness and old skool alpha bodice ripping abuse, mixed in with a plot that has so many twists and turns and "Holy shit, did I just read that?" moments that I ended up doing somespazzyrecaps wherever I happened to be on this lovely site because it helped to keep things straight at the time. If I hadn't written it down somewhere, I'd have forgotten what went on. Lots of twists, lots of craziness. I'm still intimidated by it a little bit - by the tiny font (my eyes!), the huge page count, and - last but not least - the dag-nasty meanness that went on between our hero and heroine, who were supported by a crackerjack team of secondary characters that never failed to supply WTFs of their own.
The bare bones plot is that our hero and heroine have a Cotton Candy Cupid interlude of wedded bliss for all of the first 17 pages before he's off on army business for General Porfirio Diaz and Ginny's left alone to be a victim of circumstance and plotting by the devious Russian Prince Nikolai Sahrkanov, who informs her she is actually the love child of Tsar Alexander II and--
OK, screw it. I've just tried to type out a brief outline and got bogged down with so many details, all of which seem necessary. So I think it's time for a digestible list. It's the only way this isn't gonna hurt.
The plot....it's crazy. It doesn't matter what happens in it. You won't care after awhile. Honestly. And in a good way, too. Not the "Holy shit, am I bored!" way, but the "Shit, I'm just gonna turn off my brain and enjoy it" way. Or perhaps, your brain will completely fry and you will be rendered a puddle of uncomprehending goo.
So, what will you encounter in this book?
* Rape of our heroine in a rat-infested basement by an obsessed loony (don't worry - she dispatches him) * Heroine repeatedly slapped/punched/restrained * Heroine whored out for money/power/influence * Hero suffers amnesia and becomes a killer without conscience or soul * Evil woman who gets off on abuse, rape, and murder (Antoinette Lassiter is one sick bitch) * Hero sleeping around with just about everything and everybody * Heroine drugged and manipulated every which way * Misunderstandings! With consequent vile hatred for one's perceived whorings! And a total double standard!! * Hero beaten to a pulp and nearly hanged * A saber duel with ninja action (You think I'm kidding?)
You know, there's probably more - way more - but I can't recall anything else at the moment. The main thing that will forever stick with me about this middle child of the Steve and Ginny saga is the - and I think I've mentioned this before! - meanness. They are incredibly mean to each other. F'rinstince, Steve - still an amnesiac - slips into Ginny's room in the middle of the night, ties her to the bed and rapes her. She then proceeds to put up a $30,000 bounty for his head which might (or might not - I've forgotten, dammit) end up playing a part in him getting his head turned into a mushy prune by the main villains in the story. He then proceeds to stagger off to his opera singer mistress, which enrages Ginny more, and this ramping up of the bile and vitriol and lethal spite continues right until almost the very last page. Have you seen Duel in the Sun with Gregory Peck and Jennifer Jones crawling around the desert, attempting (and ultimately succeeding) to kill each other? Yeah, Steve and Ginny were totes Lewt and Pearl. All that was missing was the actual death, but the "I love you so much I hate your fucking guts" sentiment was the same.
So, in the end, you're looking at about 585 pages of separation and/or nasty antagonism between our two lovers, from when Steve first vanishes from Ginny's tender, loving arms to the final embrace after a newly-negotiated-and-yet-always-fragile truce. And I just know that it won't take long in Book 3 for them to be at each others' throats again and being a pain in the other's ass.
Oh and in the interest of factual accuracy vs. publisher mendacity, the back cover of my 22nd printing (and still many-typoed) edition lied! We only hear about Ginny's trip to Russia in the past tense and there are no squalid fleshpots and barely any action set in Paris. This is a Mexico-California-Texas romance.
One of these days I'll crack the code to review a Rosemary Rogers book with some degree of coherence, but until then, I'll stick with cowering in the passenger seat, keeping my head down, and trying to make it through each book alive.(less)
Poor Elise Lesconflair! About to be married off to a fat German baron with lots o' money, she happens to swim in the nude as so many heroines do and g...morePoor Elise Lesconflair! About to be married off to a fat German baron with lots o' money, she happens to swim in the nude as so many heroines do and gets herself raped by a wandering n'er-do-well who calls himself the Marquis de Pelessier. Family honor forces her to marry the man and her troubles only multiply from there. She finds out that the "Marquis" is really American Garth McClelland, who is always on a mission for his country when he's not seizing what he wants for himself. But, you know, those heroines just can't leave the asshats behind and they are in each other's blood whether they like it or not. The adventure is on and never lets up.
This is one of those old bodice rippers where the heroine is never given a break for hundreds of pages. Gang rape (and miscarriage) aboard a slave ship, framed for murder and sold into slavery by conniving enemies, continual rape by whoever gets their hands on her (including the "hero" McClelland), a near-hanging, a trial for murder, and branding. Her happier moments are spent pillaging ships at Jean Lafitte's side and being his mistress. In a book of jaw-dropping troglodytes, cads and weasles, he was the only true gentleman.
I'm sure I forgot a few things - after awhile, there was so much thrown at Elise that I lost track. Absurd hilarity, but in an enjoyable way. The coincidences and convenient plot thread convergences are ridiculous to the extreme. It was so amateurish and read like it was tossed off in a weekend that it was almost admirable - sort of like an Ed Wood movie.
This book review has been provided by the No Book Left Behind Campaign! A Bodice Ripper Readers Anonymous group initiative to review the un-reviewed!(less)
Bad in real life, but a fact of life in the old bodice rippers. If it's something that bugs you, chances are the whole book would s...moreRape is bad, mmkay?
Bad in real life, but a fact of life in the old bodice rippers. If it's something that bugs you, chances are the whole book would suffer from its inclusion and you'd probably be better off not bothering to read it. Especially a book like this one, where rape occurs multiple times (and mainly by the hero).
This is the first Rosemary Rogers book I've ever read, and I'm glad that I didn't gobble this up back in high school along with Bertrice Small and Johanna Lindsey because, like other people, I might have focused solely on the sexual violence Marisa suffers and therefore ignored the other elements in the book. The adventure and crazy action is tops, of course, but the primal scream of female suffering comes through real loud and no doubt struck a strong chord back in 1976. It still resonates, and putting it in a historical perspective, the brutality Marisa endures from all quarters - even by those who profess to love her - is part and parcel of depicting a brutal time. Despite the Enlightenment and a professed dedication to Rule of Law, some parts of life were lawless, and a woman's body was unprotected territory. By the 1970s, much progress had been made, but the double standards were still there, the salving of male pride still an unspoken "duty", and several of Marisa's tirades are essentially a worn, frustrated "Enough is enough! Grow the hell up! Why do you fault us when we want to be all we aspire to be? Why are you so afraid?"
These alpha heroes and spitfire heroines and the nasty things they do and suffer through are perfect fits for the settings of the old rippers. There's Old World decadence under the veneer of gentility, and New World blunt, raw brutality as frontiers are tamed and a whole race is grist for another's mill. There's contradictions to navigate and fail, like mixed blood being fashionable in France but is grounds for enslavement in America. What one takes for granted is stolen away in an ocean's breadth. The world is still like that in many respects, and the unidealized atmosphere and characters in this book and many others of its time never fail to make me react and think.
Like any book, though, there are some weak moments. I thought the character of Dominic was too flat for most of the book. Only at the end did he have an awakening of sorts, and it was too little too late, and the eventual HEA with he and Marisa came too closely on its heels. Still, I give the book 5 stars because the final act still had my interest and a good pace. Unlike Stormfire which, while it had a far better hero in Sean Culhane, had a long, dwindling final act that seemed unnecessary as soon as it started and the book didn't satisfy me overall as this one.
This is a true bodice ripper classic, and if you don't mind squirming a bit in discomfort in parts, it's definitely worth the read.(less)
This book wasn't nearly as shocking as all the hype surrounding it would suggest. In fact, it's pretty conventional in many respects. For example, the...moreThis book wasn't nearly as shocking as all the hype surrounding it would suggest. In fact, it's pretty conventional in many respects. For example, the pat incest resolution, as well as the pretty quick thawing of Sean's resolve to beat down and kill Kit. I was prepared to have a few hundred pages of abuse, but imagine my surprise when Sean's attitude towards her turns to love & protection (well, of a sort) by page 85 and lasts for well over 200 pages until Kit acts according to her conscience and brings it all crashing down into a short-lived loop of hatred and revenge, followed by the rest being selfless acts of devotion and sacrifice. I think this book has gotten the reputation it has from people who didn't read past page 50 (if they got that far) and hearsay and groupthink took over like it usually does. Read it for yourselves, if you can get a copy or find it online.
The book lost steam around page 450, when Kit and Sean wind up in France as Napoleon's ambitions and intrigues and counter-intrigues take center stage. Monson was unable to make these big picture machinations nearly as interesting as the intense personal struggle that consumed the first 2/3rds of the novel with just Sean & Kit and the dark, dysfunctional little world of the Culhane keep of Shelan. It was atmospheric, close, and terrifying. Excellent stuff. I felt it should have ended by pg 450, as neatly tied up as it eventually was on pg 568. The extended epilogue in France was so at odds with the rest of the book and, well, frankly boring. So much was thrown into it that by this point I thought it was overstuffed. The final chapter was rushed, indicating four years had passed with Sean at Austerlitz, that I wondered why Monson hadn't paced herself and kept it for a sequel. (Separation over the battlefields of Europe as they fight to reunite! I'd have read it.) The overall feeling I had by the end was that it was very ambitious, overdiligent, and half-successful. Even the typos started getting heavier by the end, as if the editor gave up. But it was a first novel. I have some others of hers that I'll read to compare.
I was glad to finally finish it. It's not a keeper, that's for sure, but I'm happy to have read it and actually seen for myself what the big whoop was all about. Overblown hysteria in the current pablum romance era, IMO.(less)
Wow, what a weird and beautiful book. My expectations were pretty high because it's so rare (as is Denys' only other novel, The Silver Devil), and the...moreWow, what a weird and beautiful book. My expectations were pretty high because it's so rare (as is Denys' only other novel, The Silver Devil), and they were met for the most part. The premise is pretty simple. Girl is sold off into marriage to a faceless duke and danger and passion occur in the most unexpected ways with love and hatred being equal motives.
What I loved most was Denys' economy of language. She manages to convey the dilapidated and rotting Spanish nobility and all its various parasites with vivid characters that are described with sharp brushstrokes. Sometimes it can verge on the repetitious (the hero/anti-hero, Felipe Tristán, is described as speaking tonelessly or unemotionally a lot), but more often it was used to great effect to describe a cast of characters from a nightmarish Goya family portrait. There are in-bred royal by-blows, indebted countesses-turned-procurers, greedy uncles, lustful and conniving aunts, and peasants who will do anything to survive in a kingdom overtaxed and ruled by a social class unworthy of the responsibility.
In the middle of this is Juana de Arrelanos, a merchant's daughter who is ripped away from her sweetheart to marry the Duque de Valenzuela. While not of the nobility, she is imperious with the standing that her family's money gives her and is determined that this marriage nonsense will not go through. Unfortunately, there are parties that are equally determined that the marriage will (or will not, in the case of His Majesty, Philip IV) happen and they don't much care what happens to the bride in the process of their machinations.
It's got a very gothic feel to it, as Juana is trapped under the spell of insanity and secrecy that hangs in the air of the Castillo de Beneventes. Providing much of the tension and threat, especially to Juana's sense of who she really is under the stiff exterior of a proper Spanish lady, is the Duque's "handler", Felipe Tristán. He's a giant of a man with flame-copper hair, a scarred face and an attitude that just dares a person to mess with him and walk away. Is he a tool to break Juana's will, or does he have a mission of his own?
I have to admit that I really loved this character, even though he was an emotionless and mentally abusive bastard throughout most of the story (with a few exceptions). One of those things a reader can't explain - I like what I like! He and Juana have a fierce attraction to each other and neither is willing to admit it, and it takes the two of them through murders and other dangers and complications (sometimes self-inflicted, since this is nominally a romance).
My gripes are few, since this was a beautifully engrossing book. There are coincidences and conveniences throughout, although Felipe Tristán's backstory comes into the plot and is revealed quite tidily towards the end (a bit too HEA for my tastes), Juana stupidly charges right into danger often (though always manages to escape, sometimes without aid, so bully for her), and he and Juana's distrust of each other continues right until almost the very last page. It was a bit annoying to still have them at loggerheads so close to the end, but eh, whatever. There's a lot that makes up for it.
The sex isn't graphic - no weeping members or dewy lady petals - and I thought it was made more intense and smokin' for it, especially the first encounter between Felipe and Juana (Caveat lector: it's borderline rape/forced seduction). Three words and a verb had me fanning myself. Although there were some bodice-ripper elements, Denys' style was unlike what is typical of pure historical romance and so it really is in a category of its own.
If you like overwhelming and dominating "heroes", plenty of intrigue and tension, with an intriguing portrait of glorious Spain in decline, then it's worth scrounging up a copy. They're expensive ($31 and up), so try library loan. It's how I got my copy, and now I've got to read more about the Habsburg dynasty. Ever see the lineage of the last Spanish Habsburg king? Not a whole lot of branches in that there family tree.
(This book review has been provided by the No Book Left Behind Campaign! A Bodice Ripper Readers Anonymous group initiative to review the un-reviewed!)(less)
I'm not a consistent reader in my likes and dislikes. Most of the time I think a book's slow pace drags, and sometimes another book's slow pace seems...moreI'm not a consistent reader in my likes and dislikes. Most of the time I think a book's slow pace drags, and sometimes another book's slow pace seems just right. This book falls into the latter camp. The story - focused around the heroine's search for her father, an old betrothal contract, and the tension in a marriage when the husband is in mad, courtly love with his queen - moved along at just the right speed so that all the details of the period and the character interactions didn't seem rushed or sluggish. Instead, it had a very natural, organic feel to it.
The Story: Solange discovers that her stepfather and her mother are going to marry her off to the Baron Conon d'Yves, despite a former betrothal between her and the handsome Raoul. When she proves stubborn about following their orders, she is shipped off to a convent but manages to escape en route. In the woods, she encounters - and is given the chivalric protection of - Aimery de Montvert, who escorts her to court so Louis VII can arbitrate the dispute. While at court, Solange discovers that her father may not have died in the Holy Land and she becomes obessessed with finding him again. When Louis and his queen, Eleanor of Aquitaine, decide to take the Cross, Solange seizes the opportunity to tag along on her own mission. She needs to be married, however - Eleanor will not have single (and therefore temptable into immorality) ladies in her Queen's Guard - and Solange is married off to Aimery. Their wedded life isn't all that smooth, since he only has eyes for his queen, and Solange resents the forced marriage. Then everyone hies off to the Holy Land, where no end of trouble awaits everyone, from each other as well as those blasted infidels.
I thought there was plenty packed into this book. Much of the story occurs during the preparation for Crusade and the very long journey overland to Byzantium and beyond. Rather than jumping right into the action of battle, the journey itself became a setting of political and domestic intrigue, personal pilgrimages to expiate sins (especially in the case of the character Sybille de Nannes), plenty of drama, and evolutions of self-discovery. No one came back from the Holy Land unchanged, and Carew's cast of characters is no exception.
Solange goes through a huge transformation of character. She begins the story as a stubborn child stupidly in love with a man she barely remembers (Raoul), then progresses into a determined girl driven to find her daddy, and finally becomes a woman who has met all kinds of obstacles head-on, from willful adultery (might be a turn-off for some readers) to ambush by Turks. And as time went on I could see her become stronger and more mature.
Solange's mother also is transformed by the journey, and I greatly enjoyed her character. She began as very submissive and unlikable, but ends as tremendously sympathetic and a voice of reason and good judgment. It was a very believable arc. The pacing definitely helped this, because in faster-paced romances it sometimes seems like characters rapidly switch gears in development.
The hero, Aimery, was a bit more inscrutable than Solange, although he was given plenty to do and think and feel, and I think he was a pretty solid character as well. He is possessive of what is his by law (Solange), but her disregard of those invisible chains both intrigues and infuriates him. He has dedicated himself to living up to another's (Eleanor's) ideals, but when those ideals fall short, he is forced to find fulfillment elsewhere. And lo, he does. (Pride leads to misunderstandings between he and Solange, which could go on too long for some readers, but there was so much else to offset it that I didn't let it get on my nerves.)
The third major character is Eleanor of Aquitaine. I thought the depiction of her was well-done. She's not the rampant sex kitten of other novels, nor is she the protofeminist who is the only smart girl in a room of stupid, backward males. Here, she is the creator of The Courts of Love, a chivalric notion with intricate rules of what love is and how the sexes should interact with each other. She is young, beautiful, willful, and quite the manipulator of men with her principles of "remote love." Basically, it's make the boys mad for you without having to put out, because they will be content with chaste favors. In the beginning, Aimery is a devout believer of Eleanor's fancy, and she has only to whistle and he comes running. As time goes on, he is discontented with it and gradually moves away from her. This loss of power infuriates her, but she is not evil. She has power, she likes it and likes to wield it, and she doesn't like to see it diminished. She seemed more like a medieval queen and true part of the story, than some historical figure plunked down to do her Eleanor of Aquitaine schtick.
So, bottom line: It's a leisurely paced romance, it has plenty of period detail, a fine prose style, and is one of the very few medievals that haven't bored me senseless. In fact, I enjoyed every page of it and was prompted to think long and hard about the characters and themes.
Warnings --Marital rape --Incestuous rape --Adultery (voluntary, by heroine) --Big Misunderstanding --Very vaguely-described sex (either a pro or con, you decide!)(less)
Ever since reading Sweet Savage Love this past April, I've often wondered if I'll ever encounter a non-Rosemary Rogers bodice ripper that has the same...moreEver since reading Sweet Savage Love this past April, I've often wondered if I'll ever encounter a non-Rosemary Rogers bodice ripper that has the same formula of crazy action, constantly clashing hero and heroine, vivid backdrops, and the seasonings and spices of traitorous bodies, endless abductions, rapes, murders, bloodshed, and - most important of all - compulsive readability.
My friends, I think I found it.
Kitty Wright is a heroine straight out of Rosemary Rogers' playbook. She's a girl who wants to live her life as she sees fit, but she takes copious issue with having decisions made for her, expected to conform to society, or getting carted about as chattle and a prisoner. All her railing (and she does lots of outraged railing and foot-stamping) is for naught because, of course, she is weak where her body is concerned...until the hormonal spell is over and then she's pissed off at herself and the bastard-in-question who pushed her button. She's also got a tongue like a bullwhip that will say the opposite of what she feels because showing affection has always gotten her hurt and always will. Better to have him pissed off at you than have him know you care.
She meets her match with Travis Coltrane (quite a ways into the book, so be patient). Travis is a Creole Yank who saves her ass from indentured rapitude at the hands of the nasty Luke Tate, but once he discovers that she's quite good with a needle and saw (learned at the elbow of her hometown doctor), he holds her captive to tend to any wounded soldiers in his regiment. They hate, they love, they hate, they love. Back and forth and forth and back. If you've ever read Rosemary Rogers, you know the drill.
Kitty is abducted by this and that person, kept for weeks or months in various conditions (by Yanks, Reb renegades, Cherokees, etc.), but she always makes her way back to civilization in order to get carted off into the wilds again or shoved onto a path she doesn't want to tread. It's a plot that keeps going for the sake of motion, its aimlessness becoming more apparent in the last quarter of the book. Some plot threads vanish entirely (we never do find out what happens to her sick and dying saloon whore mother), and Kitty and Travis have schizo moments of not acting consistently from page to page. But this is a romance in the sloppy and over-the-top style of old school Rogers. Either you like it, or you don't.
There's a nominal love triangle here. Whenver Kitty gets so infuriated with Travis (AKA every time after they bump uglies), she's determined to break away and go back to her pre-war swain Nathan Collins by any means possible. Despite Kitty's super skills with the scalpel and bonesaw, she's a real dolt when it comes to ol' Nathan, who has blindingly obvious colors that she can't or won't see.
Even though I adored Steve Morgan in SSL, Hagan let the reader into Travis' head far more than Rosemary did with Esteban Morgan. Travis is carrying the chronic alphole attitude towards all women because of his whoreish mother, but he has a back story that is very sympathy-inducing with regards to his feelings about slavery and why he fights for the Union. I got a greater sense for who he is than Steve, a mysterious guy who was always seen, but barely known (if that makes sense).
In addition to all the Rosemary Rogers awesome hot mess-ness, I really loved the grittiness of the period detail. The scenes in the battlefield hospitals -- where soldiers with blasted limbs are tossed onto a bloodied plank between two bloody barrels to be operated on, the sawn-off limbs tossed out through a door or window -- are brutal and an integral part of Hagan's one constant theme that war is indeed Hell with no glory or honor to be had. There is also a very detailed scene where Kitty performs her first amputation (under kidnapped duress) which had me nauseous for awhile. Hagan went into the gory territory where few romances ventured back then, and the newer ones never (?) do. It was refreshing to read a romance about the Civil War that didn't downplay the carnage or make it PG. Arterial spray, spilled guts, agonizing death throes, bodies blown apart by grapeshot...the death and destruction was stark and perfectly complemented the madness and insanity of Kitty's own dark and dangerous odyssey of abduction, murder, rape, and frustrated love.
This review will probably make no sense because I'm still trying to process this book's awesomeness. But for what it's worth, here it is....
This book...moreThis review will probably make no sense because I'm still trying to process this book's awesomeness. But for what it's worth, here it is....
This book is a 5 megaton starload of awesome. From Tom Hall's seductively Gothic cover art to the size of the book to the lovely nostalgic red-edged pages, I started lurveing this meaty retro Victorian sensation novel from the first page. And it didn't let up. Its awesome perfection was such that I feared it might puff into vapor and I would wake up and realize it had all been a dream.....
Oh, my sad journey in romance of finding an honest-to-goodness rake. So many poseurs, so few genuine critters. (Anne Stuart? Oh crap, my pancreas just exploded from laughing so hard. And don't get me started on all the pups who are touted as the most notorious rakes in all of London, trying to wear bad boy pants but acting like they're barely out of Fauntleroy knickers. I scoff at the lot of them. Run 'long home, son! You bother me.)
I knew I had to go old school to find the rake of my dreams, the one who made me believe in his badness, his utter dissolution, his seemingly total inability to be, well, human - but who eventually sees the light and wins the girl and deserves her in the end. Because this lord would take your modern "rakes", beat them up, steal their lunch money, and give them a parting kick in the 'nads for good measure. Then he'd chop them up and use them for chum or cheap peasant food or something.
Oh, Thomas Eden. You are so set in your ways of being the Fifth Earl and Thirteenth Baron of Eden Point. There is nothing and no one you can't have. Your titled lineage goes back to the 10th century, and that's a fuckton of privilege, authority, and reeking elitism that's built up over time for you to glut yourself on without a twinge of conscience. Any man would relish that heritage and power and become a blind hostage to it, and when you are Lord and God of your massive estate in remote North Devon - a rocky and harsh place with easily cowed tenants - well, I suspect that one might go just a little bit insane. London periodically serves as a place to go wild and whore and gamble and peer at the loonies in Bedlam for an afternoon's entertainment, and after 20+ years of such a lifestyle....a man's personality and habits are a lost cause. Change won't come easily. It's OK, Thomas. I understand.
And that's what surprised AND FRIGGIN' DELIGHTED me when I read this book. He was bad to the bone and did so many heinous things, but I understood him and felt sorry for him. Eden is so single-minded and ruthless about getting Marianne Locke into his bed that he will stoop to anything. He will have her whipped for disobedience, he will follow her to London to rape her in the dead of night, he will bombard her with courtly calling cards and flowers, he will (view spoiler)[fake a marriage (hide spoiler)], he will do ANYTHING to get her and he believes, all the while, that he is totally within his rights to do so. These rights aren't the creepy pulled-from-his-ass justification that Anthony Welles used in Devil's Embrace to make him feel moral and good in kidnapping and raping that dope Cassie. Eden's rights are what makes England hum along as a world power and rightly dwarf everyone else in Europe, especially those bloodthirsty little pygmies in Paris. Some people rule, the others fall in line. If not, then the sun will explode and the world will end. Or worse, some assholes in America won't shut up about freedom and inalienable rights and shit and they'll take every opportunity to moon their mad ex-king like a bunch of gloaty hooligans. See? Horrible. What is the world coming to? Damn salt in the wound, that's what it is. Well, they'll be sorry and wish they hadn't given up such a sweet deal when they had it.
Marianne's obstinant refusal and principled stand to protect her virtue totally baffles him. What 16-year old peasant girl does that???!? She makes him flounder and obsess and plot and plan, she upends his entire conception of how the world works and he is totally ill-equipped to process such a simple notion as "No." By dint of her consistent principles, she wears him down by making him do things that he would not have ever considered doing had she been the typical peasant wench glad to spread her legs for the master. Her refusal causes him to destroy or completely alter lives (sometimes wittingly, sometimes not), but he is aware of the consequences of his power (and gradually becomes ashamed of it) for the first time in his self-absorbed 40-year life. By book's end, he has been transformed in matters of the heart - at least where one girl is concerned - and is slightly more aware of the human world around him. No, it's not a perfect and pretty conversion with a shiny ribbon and bow. That would be ridiculous and unbelievable and WOULD HAVE RUINED THE WHOLE STORY.
Harris did an excellent job of portraying the time period and making her characters act appropriately. Eden is such a man of his times, lord of a title and castle that dates back centuries, who works himself up in an utter rage at the goings-on in France, where the "natural order" is being ground into the dust for idiotic notions of liberty. He is part of the class that made England strong and at the same time weakened it.
I have to make an honorable mention of something in this pure, dark Victorian melodramaesque crack rock of a novel: A highlight of Eden's journey in his pursuit of Marianne was the segment about his fascination with something called "The Celestial Bed" that was patented by a Dr. James Graham. Purported to have elemental powers and a connection to the universe and guarantees fertility and sexual pleasure to all who pay heftily for the privilege of seXXXoring in it, it is Eden's last-ditch attempt to get Marianne where he wants her and make her enjoy it as much as he will (hey, that's progress right there).
The part where he first hatches the plan made me facepalm in embarrassment for the poor blighter falling for this quackery, and when the scheme climaxes, it's absurd and completely "omg, where's a rock I can hide under?" but....weird as it may sound, Graham and his Celestial Bed were a real sensation in Georgian England. Harris did a superb job of weaving historical fact (in this case, a total historical oddity) into her story and making it serve both the plot and the character arc of her anti-hero and heroine and their relationship.
And what's more, by the end of this ultimate "taming of the rake" story, Eden is still Lord of Eden Point with his world view still somewhat intact. Yes, he won Marianne and she is the treasure of his heart and he defies society to have her by his side, but he is still an aristocratic - and autocratic - man in 1798 England where everyone has their place. The end has a fine and warm little scene with fellow social misfits Lord Nelson and Emma Hamilton, but the Eden household has an inheritance problem that could become something thorny. Despite the happy fade-to-back, all might not be well in the future.... The Edens, I feel, are their own worst enemies.
Eden is an anti-hero from a bygone age. I wonder what would happen to him in today's romance world. Methinks his redemption would include vowing to hand out bread to the poor on Sundays, setting up a refuge for war widows and orphans, and/or admitting that he is no better in God's eyes than the poorest of men on his land. In later books, he would be the lovably irascible and devoted spouse of an affectionately chiding Marianne, and they would appear briefly for the big "family gathering" scene in each series book that has the bakers' dozen+ of brothers, sisters, cousins, best friends, and their spouses and fiancés show up to deliver a banal line or two of dialogue---
Bottom line: This is a book where the characters don't come to the reader; the reader has to go to the characters to understand, appreciate, and enjoy them. Context, people! Context! That goes for Eden and Marianne all the way down to Marianne's family and the various servants, friends and acquaintances that populate the novel. Their lives and experiences and the world in which they live of two vast social spheres make them act in ways that seem natural and believable, even if it is sometimes base and ugly (or, in the case of The Celestial Bed, endearingly gullible to a sparkly cure for what ails. Oh, times have changed, haven't they?) And it was real fun to watch the slow and tortured journey of a blockhead aristocrat try to face a heretofore unknown problem of the flesh with all the sledgehammer tools of his class and position.
Mini Honorable Mention: There isn't much in the way of inner dialogue and naval-gazing so that all mystery is stripped away from the characters and we get to watch them flog themselves on a shrink's couch for 600 pages, spoonfed every last shred of their psyche. Thank Bloody Christ for that. Understanding the characters through their actions and behavior within their world is what made these people accessible and delightfully open to interpretation.
I wish to Hell they still wrote them like this.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
You should see my copy of this book. It came without covers, front AND back. Truly a rarity in my col...more Because 5 measly stars is so woefully inadequate.
You should see my copy of this book. It came without covers, front AND back. Truly a rarity in my collection, but it was a freebie on Paperbackswap, so I couldn't complain. It now sports a hot pink cover (courtesy of card stock from the office supply closet - thievery for a good cause) with a B&W xerox of the cover image (courtesy of the internet), and it's all laminated in packing tape from the local Dollar Store.
I am nothing if not resourceful.
I'm not even sure how to write this review. Well, for starters, I doubt I'll ever look at any bodice ripper the same way again. The urge to compare will be irresistible...and totally unfair. Because this book, quite simply, is one of a kind and I doubt I'll ever read its like again. Somehow I'm afraid that the rest of the Steve and Ginny series won't be as heart-wrenchy and gut-punchy and sheer bodice-rippery as this one was. Do I read them and suffer possible disappointment? Or leave well enough alone? Oh shit, I'll read them simply because I can't get enough of that fine hunk of man, Steve Morgan.
Yes, I have rarely fangirled a hero with such giddy abandon as I have Esteban Alvarado aka Steve the Stud. Every scene he was in had my full attention and mind in full-on perv mode. Part of the blame rests on him being described as a dead ringer for James Drury:
I'm serious. Even down to the description of his clothes in one scene and his bloody eyebrows. Methinks Rosemary loved her some The Virginian, and who can blame her. Hey, even if I'm way off the mark here, he's my image of Steve. (And did it ever enhance the reading experience.)
Ahem, where was I? Oh yes. Steve. Luscious Steve. Alpha-hero-to-the-nth-power Steve.
Steve the Union officer who bangs the married Sonya Brandon, duels with his superior over Sonya, and is condemned to a firing squad for the act. Steve, who escapes said squad by agreeing to act as a government agent spying on the traitorous Senator Brandon. Steve, who feels up Sonya's stepdaughter Ginny Brandon in a hotel room under the assumption that she's a whore sent to service him...and sets in motion all the sweet-savage-loving (and -hating!) events that follow.
I'm unapologetic about my fangirling of this dude. I know not everyone would haul to their reader's bosom a hero who marries the heroine and then, within minutes, is tonsil-boxing a gypsy temptress with his still-with-the-tag wife standing right beside him. But I did. Oh, did I ever.
This book succeeded where other romances like Stormfire failed. I didn't go through agonies when Monson's hero and heroine went through the wringer, but Rosemary Rogers ripped out my guts and did a flamenco on them during the last third of the book where she puts Steve and Ginny through both physical and mental torture, each one suffering a trip into a personal hell. Normally I don't get that involved with a heroine, but Ginny's anguish over Steve's torture and presumed death really kept me glued to the pages, mainly because the hero was someone I thought worthy of the emotional whirlwind.
Rogers is an author that I'm glad I never read back when I was younger. I doubt I would have appreciated the glorious excess, and I'm not sure just how I would have reacted to the Alpha+1ness that is Steve Morgan. He's a nasty piece of work, an unrepentant horndog, and delights in tormenting his lady love Ginny. But she gives as good as she gets, and I can't can't can't wait to get back to their sweet savage saga.(less)
It's been a long time since I've read such a raw and nasty little bodice ripper like this one, a romance that's not really a romance but is more about...moreIt's been a long time since I've read such a raw and nasty little bodice ripper like this one, a romance that's not really a romance but is more about people going through a totally shitty slog of craptastic luck and it (somehow) all works out by the final page. Books like this are not usually faithful to the romance formula and conventions, which is OK by me. I love being surprised.
Since this book is set in Russia, I'm already naturally inclined to love it. The author would have to screw it all up right royal to bore me or make me hate it (like what Susan Johnson did in Seized By Love). Campbell did just fine, making the Russian setting an integral part of the characters' thoughts, emotions, and motivations. There is serf unrest, a paranoid tsar forever changed by the terror of an attempted coup and revolt, a skulking and sly member of the Imperial secret police, a wandering priest-mystic with delusions of power (a kinder, gentler Rasputin), and the Russian vs. European differences in everything from governing ideals to fashion. This wasn't a wallpaper historical that could be picked up and dumped into another country or era with only a few tweaks. It's a romance tied to 1825 Russia.
Katia is an 18-year old orphan who is taken out of the convent where she has spent the last 13 years. En route to her aunt's home, her sleigh convoy is set upon by murderous serfs and she is rescued by Prince Oleg Romanov. But far from being safe, she's in the worst danger of her life.
Dun dun dun.....
Oleg's not the hero. His egalitarian-minded (and therefore treasonous) cousin Alexei Romanov is, but don't expect to see much of Katia/Alexei in this book. They pine for each other (her for him more than vice versa) and, yes, there's the HEA at the very end, but the majority of character interaction in this romance is Oleg and Katia, and is it ever mean and degraded and totally effed up. You see, Oleg's daddy was a bastard and it made his mommy unhappy and she went off and sought solace with a hunky visiting Scotsman and ended up allegedly tossing herself into a river. But not before she gave birth to a daughter who is....Katia.
Yes, kiddies, we've got full-on half-sibling incest in this book. Granted, neither of them know it, but I know that's probably a deal breaker for, eh, the vast majority. But I loved it. Oleg is a horrible person, and he's gotten his kicks for years by being a hymen bandit on any lower-class sweet young thing, but there was enough detail about him to make me wonder if he was insane or something else was driving him. He is often crippled by blinding headaches, and while Campbell didn't lay it all out, I did wonder if there was something terminal at work. I actually spent more time thinking about Oleg than the hero Alexei.
Don't get me wrong. Alexei's an interesting guy himself. Unwelcome in Russia, he's spent many years abroad in England amassing wealth in shipping, which has taken him to Australia and Tasmania where he is horrified by the callous treatment of the natives by the English. He rescues a mutilated and mute captive chief that he names Black Jake, who is given some back story, stuff to do, and helps make this story be surprisingly full and rich for a mere 360 pages. The Decembrist-sympathetic Alexei also has cultivated contacts among the English royalty, which puts him in the sticky position of being considered both a threat and an asset to Tsar Nicholas, as well as a perpetual thorn in the side of Oleg, who would really just like to kill his cousin and throw the body to the wolves.
Now we come to Katia. She's an innocent young thing who has hated being imprisoned for 13 years among nasty nuns unappreciative of her spirit, so once she gets out of there and is tossed into nasty and frightening Romanov Russia, she's not quite sure what to do but submit when things get crazy. She really is a doormat. She's used and abused by Oleg and is completely terrified to try to rebel or escape. (Complicating things is the presence of an orphaned child, who is also menaced by the sick puppy Oleg. So yeah, add child molestation to this one as well. Still wanna read it?)
Bottom line, it ain't a pretty book, and the final scene between Katia and Alexei really does come far too late, but Katia's vow to him at the end isn't quite what I expected and was all the more realistic for it.
I'd recommend this for those who love Russian settings, but there's a whole lot of ugly that comes with it: gruesome murders, lecherous lesbian brothel madams, implied child rape, oral rape, plain ol' rape, incest, mutilation, and I'm sure there's some more I've forgotten.
This book review has been provided by the No Book Left Behind Campaign! A Bodice Ripper Readers Anonymous group initiative to review the un-reviewed!(less)
In a nutshell, and summarized oh-so-succinctly by this reviewer, Purity's Passion is a romance where "the heroine is separated from her true love, and...moreIn a nutshell, and summarized oh-so-succinctly by this reviewer, Purity's Passion is a romance where "the heroine is separated from her true love, and must f--- her way back to him."
Yup, pretty much it. But if you insist on more detail....
Purity Jarsy, sweet and innocent daughter of the bailiff to a lecherous and sadistic French marquis, witnesses the ravages of the French Revolution first hand at a tender age. She watches her mother drowned in wine, serving maids raped on tables, and a "citizen" court dispense a mockery of justice while the aristocrat master of the house dangles from a rope on the chandelier above. She finds her way out of the horror of revolutionary France when Mark Landless arrives with an old command from the now-dead marquise (his cousin and lost love) to take Purity to England if anything should happen to her.
Flash forward several years and Purity is now almost seventeen and desperately in love with her guardian, a fact of which Landless seems completely oblivious. But our girl Purity is determined to win him. That is, until she discovers he has feet of clay with the upstairs maid. Now Purity is off and running on dispensing the favors of her hooha via her own will or getting the privilege yanked from her control. Lovely little affairs are alternated with nasty and tawdry ordeals, but through it all she hopes that she will ultimately come to Mark a "complete woman."
No longer--as on the last occasion--was she an untried girl playing at being a woman, a child who panicked and fled before the revelation that a man is not a saint of stone set upon a stone pedestal. She was a woman burdened down with the hard truths of life; a woman, furthermore, whose wounded spirit had been salved by the gentleness of a loving friend, to whom she had unashamedly offered all that was hers to give in return.
And when Mark himself makes things difficult, it really tests Purity's devotion. But you know how this will all end, don't you?
There is really a laundry list of smut in this book -- and if literal "kissing cousins" (ok, second cousins) crosses a line for you, well, this romance has it -- but darned if it isn't phrased daintily and with admirable restraint. Despite containing rape and near-rape by a half-witted farm boy, schoolgirls who drool over pornography and indulge in lesbian and hetero dormitory games, sex under the influence, rape by the hero, rape by the main villain (who is some type of Dr. Moriarty wannabe), pity sex, comfort sex, and a bunch of other sex, I think the most graphic it ever gets is "thrust." Most of the sex is phrased like this:
It began slowly, grandly, with a wide and splendid rhythm -- like a great anthem from out of the ancient past, like the beating of mighty breakers upon some far-off bastion of a shore. And she was carried high on the wavecrest of sound and movement, crying as she was taken up, laughing into the light that blinded her eyes.
There's more about mountaintops and floating among the clouds and "constellations of stars uncharted," but you get the idea. Seymour is apparently Mike Butterworth, and props to him (if it is a him) for not getting icky-gross like some dude writers have done. (I'm specifically thinking of breasts like pudding.)
All in all, I thought it was a raunchy yet dignified little romp through Regency England with some great action when Purity and Mark set sail for the Peninsula to join up with Wellington's army. There's a naval battle that, while not as white-knuckle as Canham's in Bound by the Heart, shows another part of the battle: the sawbones below decks who soon finds himself overwhelmed in mangled, wounded bodies. Here, Purity really shone as a strong girl, given her persistent PTSD from childhood about raging mobs and brutal slaughter. She has to fight off those nightmarish demons nearly as much as she has to fend off the Russian hands and Roman fingers.
The author had some great and/or touching lines, mainly focused around soldiers and the soldier's code. One of Purity's enduring memories is a one-night stand with a virgin midshipman due to leave on the next tide:
"You will leave tomorrow on the tide?"
"Back to Toulon?"
"Back to Toulon."
"And perhaps a big battle?"
He shrugged. "That is the object."
"Will you win?"
"Because you have Nelson."
He smiled. "And because Nelson has us."
Practically made me sing Rule Britannia, it did!
Mark touched her cheek, smiling down at her. "Remember that you are now a soldier's wife," he said gently, "and you must hold onto me with hands wide open."
Yes, Purity is a trusting dimbulb at times, and her hooha has a dense gravitational field that latches onto every male crotch that crosses its path, but I thought she was one of the most likable of that often-annoying breed. She's amazingly honest with her one true love Mark, telling him he isn't the first by a long shot, and he does the very untypical bodice ripper hero thing and says (paraphrased), "Yeah, I've slept around, too, so I have no cause to be angry. We're square now and I love you, that's all that matters."
This book really got a bad rap when it was reviewed on the Smart Bitches blog, with the expected pile-on in the comments section. To each their own (and extra points to those who had actually read it), but I think it got slapped around unfairly. IMO it was a great and fun story set in Regency England that didn't rely on marriage wagers, spies, on-the-shelf spinsters, wallflowers, wuvable teddy bears in rake's clothing, or a hero or heroine who just happens to have siblings or friends that will get their own books over the next few years. That in itself would recommend it. The fact that it has a likable (albeit slightly dumb) heroine who goes through Hell to triumph in the end, as well as plenty of vivid characters and some thrilling action and tender romance are bonuses.
I'm definitely reading the rest of Purity's trilogy. Both she and Mark Landless have gotten under my skin, and the final scene in this one (a sobbing dash à la Melanie and Ashley) left a great feeling in my tummy.
*** (Original 1/12/11): I hear there was yet another massive outbreak of squeamish book cooties at the Smart Bitches (a few months ago). Good Lord, get a spine. Onto the TBR shortlist it goes.(less)
Oh that sneaky summer of 1988 when I would pull Bertrice Small off Mom's shelf as soon as the door shut behind her in the morning! Hours of frantic re...moreOh that sneaky summer of 1988 when I would pull Bertrice Small off Mom's shelf as soon as the door shut behind her in the morning! Hours of frantic reading, only to pop it back on the shelf just as she walked through the door. As far as I can recollect, this was the first romance I ever read and it is probably my favorite book of Small's (as well as being the best of the O'Malley saga that followed).
Skye's adventures begin on her wedding night when she meets her soulmate Niall Burke, who exercises droit du seigneur to spare her from her abusive boor of a new husband. OK, so there's no evidence that such a thing ever existed. Who cares? It's instant true love! Niall is one of Small's tragic heroes, whose storyline in the sequel ripped my teenage heart out.
In the grand bodice ripper tradition, Skye gets put through the wringer, but nothing stops her from being the awesome alpha wench she is. She's abducted by pirates and becomes the beloved consort of "The Whoremaster of Algiers" (chalk up Khalid el Bey as another of Small's sympathetic male characters), and when she finally gets home she becomes a thorn in Queen Bess's side, all the while fending off lecherous lords and enduring more heartbreak.
Epic and so lush in detail, you can almost taste the braised lettuce and roasted capon. (Was there ever anything else on a Bertrice Small banquet table? Darned if I can remember if there was!)(less)
I remember liking this book when I read it oh so long ago, and even though my tastes have trended away from Bertrice Small, I have a feeling that I wo...moreI remember liking this book when I read it oh so long ago, and even though my tastes have trended away from Bertrice Small, I have a feeling that I would STILL like it - although for different reasons! I love me some lulz, and I remember that Eric Longsword has to pee through a straw. That would be worth a re-read right thar.
But seriously, the character of Basil was one of Small's sweet, yet doomed, lovers. He swings both ways, and it has tragic consequences.
Plus am I crazy when I look at the cover model for Josselin on the original cover and see Mick Jagger?(less)
**spoiler alert** WARNING: GIFs and cussin' (and big thanks to aikainkauna for her peerless GIFs.)
Constance Gluyas is a new author find for me in the...more**spoiler alert** WARNING: GIFs and cussin' (and big thanks to aikainkauna for her peerless GIFs.)
Constance Gluyas is a new author find for me in the past month. The two books I've read of hers have been about 70-80% dissimilar, but both were very readable with lots of exciting bits and tension. If the main characters aren't as fully fleshed as is ideal and the plot tends to slop around after the midway point, it made no nevermind because stuff like secondary characters and, most importantly, Flaming OTT Dwama made up for any shortcomings. Entertain me. That's all I ask.
So...Woman of Fury. Where to start? Throughout most of it, I felt like a Rosemary Rogers Mini-Me was delivering the bitchsmackz every other chapter. There's some crazy, nastyass shit that goes down, with everything around it pretty nutty as a standard of norm. But then there are some really sweet and tender scenes that keep it within the realm of sanity.
There's no way to avoid spoilers. Not even gonna try. This is one of those spazzy reviews where I give everything away, so if you want to read the book with wide innocent virgin eyes, then don't go any further.
Alrighty, there's this chick called Rebecca who is betrothed to the local podunk Inquisitor, one Matthew Lorne. Even though he's always on his high horse and railroading poor women for witchcraft because he suffers from The Raging Boner of the Hypocritical Self-Righteous, Rebecca is flattered that such a successful, self-made guy is giving her the time of day. But Lorne's sick of getting the stinkeye from his future mom-in-law and decides that he'll get rid of the bitch...
...Permanently.(O hai, I'm Conrad GQMF Veidt & I'll be your GIF muse today while Buster Keaton rests up for the impending Sherry Thomas review.)
With a few well-chosen words of paranoia, he turns the whole town against Rebecca's mom and the poor woman gets dragged to the stake and burned. She's not even weighed against a duck. (Lorne's pretty crap at standard procedure, instead relying on charismatic assholery. He's pretty successful at it, though. Credit where credit is due.)
And he seems to be shocked that Rebecca doesn't take this at all well and runs off into the woods to get away from a town gone mad. (I guess it was a-ok when other girls' moms got the torch.)
But what is this? She just happens to run into a visiting Spaniard, feels love for the first time (as does he) and they go lickin' on the lichen for a few hours.
Then Lorne just has to stab the guy in the throat and kill him.
In a horny rage, he drags Rebecca naked through the town on a Walk of Shame and shuts her up in a cottage for years, keeping her naked throughout her pregnancy and raping her at 7 months' term with the assistance of his new (and ebil) fianceé holding her down while he goes to town.
"Day-um, that's hardcore!" said I.
When she gives birth, Lorne takes the baby away and raises it in his household, giving Rebecca teasy little visits with the girl (named Shalada) just to torture her.
Matthew Lorne is a real pervy motherfucker. He's also batshit crazy. (No surprise he was my favorite character. :D) By the time Shalada is reaching the end of her teens, he's decided that he's going to tap that or esplode. We, the reader, are let in on his pervy fantasies, as well as his decision to not make his move until he's told her he's not really her father.
Because, you know, he's not a total freak.
But Shalada's no dummy. Lately she's wised up to "Dad's" real intentions and delights in telling him she hates him (which just makes him want her more). Also dogging Shalada's tail is her "brother" Robert, who also wants to tap that and beat Dad to the punch. In a raging snit at her situation, she runs off into a rainstorm.
Enter the hero, one David Medway, who has come to town to get his revenge on Lorne for conniving to murder his father because Old Medway didn't like him. (Let's start up a collection to buy our baddie a thicker skin.) Since he thinks Shalada is Lorne's daughter, he treats her like crap, even though he wants to delve into her knickers too. He tosses her onto Lorne's doorstep, leaving the unmistakable impression that he's used her.
Then shit gets crazy.
Both Lorne & Son go totally ape dump that she's damaged goods and neither of them were first. While Shalada's recovering upstairs and Lorne's dealing with his own rage, Son decides it's now or never.
Enjoy the hand porn. You know who you are. ;)
OK, Shalada really is a feisty heroine nitwit and she does some real dumb stuff in the course of the story, but...if anyone gives her any crap, she's going to make it miserable for them. No traitorous bodies for her. She's all about the kicking and scratching and clobbering, until that magnificent bastard Lorne arrives spouting Old Testament and turns the scene into epic melodrama with a dash of bloodbath.
As for the rest of the story, it all works out fine and Lorne gets his just desserts from the one person I wasn't expecting. Awesome scene, but cause a bit of a sniffle at such nasty villainy once again failing to win. Boo!
As with the other Gluyas book I read, the main romance couple don't really have much to do with each other beyond bickering and eventually realizing they love each other. Medway has more meaningful interactions with someone entirely different.
Gluyas has, so far, been real good with the secondary characters. They've been interesting and sympathy-inducing, something the main characters don't always succeed in. Polly Carter is a young woman who has been thrown in the stocks for stealing milk for her baby. Medway gives her a cloak in the rain, gets local gossip out of her, promises to see to her kid and mother, and earns her undying devotion (and help when the time for revenge comes). She's rough and unlearned and totally sweet. After all the crazyness, Polly provided some much-needed downtime and I looked forward to her scenes as much as Lorne's OTT crazytrain WTFery.
This was a particularly raw and nasty little ripper, just the way I like 'em. I give it 4 solid pervy be-monocled leers of approval. (less)
Whenever I'm in a reading slump, I retreat to Ancient Rome. That era is a happy pill in book form and rarely disappoints. Fanina was no exception, and...moreWhenever I'm in a reading slump, I retreat to Ancient Rome. That era is a happy pill in book form and rarely disappoints. Fanina was no exception, and it banished the bad juju I got from my less-than-spectacular experience with another 1960s French import, the Catherine series by Juliette Benzoni. The big shame here is that Fanina is a one-off, so there will be no more traipsing about by this Vestal Virgin heroine in the decadent days of the Julio-Claudian reign. Makes me very sad, but I'll get over it. Maybe.
When the story opens, Fanina is six years old and one of the most beautiful children in Rome. Her daddy is more republican in ideals than rah-rah emperor/dictator, which has earned him quite a few enemies. Also, a sorta kinda prophecy by Emperor Tiberius' astrologer has foretold that Fanina will save Rome. From what, they don't know. So Tiberius connives to have her put away in the protective sphere of Vesta so that nothing will happen to her. But enemies still lurk all around her.
Years pass, and Fanina is now a bouncy and luscious sweet 16 and the most beautiful woman in Rome:
She's happy in her Vestal life, doing sacred stuff and whatnot that makes Rome hum along in the gods' good graces. But then, one day she suddenly understands why some of the older Vestals aren't happy-clappy about their enforced chastity. While out and about in Rome, she claps eyes on hunky young Caius Vindex, he of the gentle face and earnest eyes:
They frisk about in the dark of night until that behavior comes to bite her in the butt (and bury her alive). But once she gets her ass out of that jam, the action doesn't let up for a second.
So much is packed into this racy little adventure. Fanina is stalked by a mysterious crippled dwarf (who has a story of his own that we eventually learn about), fought over by gladiators, tossed about at an orgy, has her body betray her several times (damn that older, experienced Sejanus and his arsenal of amatory powers!), and plots to overthrow the Emperor. Yes, she's quite dumb and naive in her idealism about overthrowing tyranny (news bulletin, sunshine: Rome is rotten to the core), and she does get into lots of trouble. But like many a brave bodice ripper heroine, she suffers what she has to in order to survive, picks herself up, and moves on.
Throughout much of the book, I had no idea where the story was going, which perfectly reflected the uncertainty of the times. Would she remain loyal to Sejanus? Or would she betray him now that he's disillusioned her? And where the hell does Caius stand? Man, he seems like a fickle little bastard.... It definitely kept my interest and had a reckless kind of fun about it as Fanina tries to weave her way through a demented time with her fresh-from-the-temple principles. When the prophecy is finally fulfilled, I loved the cheesy circumstances of it, although readers more dedicated to accuracy will probably roll their eyes heavenward. But if you're a romance reader who knows that the world existed before the Battle of Hastings and wishes that more authors knew that little fact, too, hey, I think you'll like this one.
I likes me some death and gore in my romances, and there's plenty of it dished out. Some characters are either killed off or mangled in some way, so I wondered if I should get attached to anybody. Though in the case of Sejanus it was too late, even though I knew ahead of time that history had other plans for him that didn't include living. My fault for loving those ruthless Roman bad boys.
My only carp is that it ended way too abruptly. There's the HEA and all, but I wanted more. Too bad I couldn't swap one of the many gajillion Regency series to get one for poor Fanina. Honestly, you readers wouldn't miss one less series about rakey siblings working their way through the wallflower misses of the ton.(less)
Theodora Cantacuzene is a Princess of Byzantium (and she'll remind you of it plenty of times) and is married off to the old Sultan Orkhan in a politic...moreTheodora Cantacuzene is a Princess of Byzantium (and she'll remind you of it plenty of times) and is married off to the old Sultan Orkhan in a political move. Her odyssey takes her through multiple husbands, murderous plotting, wars, and personal tragedies. It's another early Bertrice Small book where the story goes cradle-to-grave with a focus on the heroine. Her life is the point of the story, not one isolated span of time with a binary romance.
I liked this one better than The Kadin because there was a better balance of romance/bodice-ripping and history. The Kadin tended to sag under the weight of all the description, although Adora has its share of pure costume porn as well. Kadin also kept the bodice-ripping until the very end when Cyra found herself in foreign Scotland. Adora has the smut scattered throughout, and it includes everything from wooden dildo rape to child rape to plain ol' rape to feather play to backdoor action to eunuch seXXXoring to implied gangbangs to simple missionary lovin'. It's all a bit much at times, but this is one of my fond childhood books and I've read it a dozen times as a teen, so I'm no doubt grading it on a bit of a bias. ;-) It had been well over 15 years since I last read it, so it was no surprise to me to find myself reading most of it as though I was reading it for the first time. It wasn't as omgawesome as I remember, but it was still pretty darn good. And I realized that it serves as a chronological prequel of sorts to The Kadin, as Sultan Orkhan and Murad are ancestors of Cyra's husband Selim.
While Small does go heavy with the history bits (and I wish these early books of hers were longer to flesh out and incorporate so many facts in a more natural way), I find the period really fascinating and thus don't mind the longish expanses of who is screwing whom over what and where. (They coined the phrase Byzantine Politics for a reason.) Because of the constant plotting and scheming from Adora's enemies, the body count is pretty high and not always where you would expect it.
One thing I have always liked about Bertrice is that she's not afraid to kill people off - and since she is writing about historical figures, she has them exit according to history even if they're the/a hero or the protagonists' offspring (as in this book). She also doesn't flinch from the nasty realpolitik of the time, and Adora often displays a cool logic in matters that result in the deaths of others since it's an age of kill or be killed. A Christian city doesn't surrender when offered mercy? Then the sack and rape is an expected and regrettably necessary consequence. At one point, she even wields the pincers with burning coals that blind an enemy. It's not typical romance, or even bodice-ripping romance, but a life saga in a brutal time that is couched within the callous and cruel attitudes of the period, with a catalogue of salacious stuff to boot. Readers don't expect "heroes" to kill off their siblings or progeny, but it's a fact that sultans did. And Small is writing about sultans, so that is what must happen. If a reader can't suck up and deal, then don't bother picking up these early historicals of hers.
I did have a sense of deja vu with this book after having read The Kadin so recently. Both Cyra and Adora are precocious children who turn into absurdly wise and astute women. It's a flaw of Small's, these Mary Sue heroines of hers, but I still enjoyed it greatly because of the outrageous BR moments and florid turns of phrase for which Small is so well-known. This book is an obvious bridge between the very straight HF of The Kadin and the flaming bodice-ripper that is Skye O'Malley.(less)
The most important thing to know about "Christina Nicholson" is that it's really a guy. Therefore, the romance is more on the porny side - a broad gen...moreThe most important thing to know about "Christina Nicholson" is that it's really a guy. Therefore, the romance is more on the porny side - a broad generalization, I know, but it's true more often than not.
However, the feel of the historical period is well done, and factual and fictional characters intermix with no one coming out looking like a saint. In that respect, this book reminded me a lot of Bertrice Small's earlier titles, especially Adora, where a strong heroine, smut, and history combine into a trashy delight. (No deflowerings by wooden dildos, however. But quite a bit of lesbian action, including a threesome with Peter the Great and the future Catherine I. And the heroine does have armpit hair in this, so while my initial reaction was "Ick", it is a book that addresses that carp of readers everywhere about smooth legs and pits in ye olde tymes. So my hat is off to the author for that.)
The heroine, Lorna MacMahon, isn't a paragon of virtue or even really likable. She's a vain little farm girl in 1690s Maryland who longs for the high life, and that wish appears to be granted upon the arrival of news that her father has inherited his elder brother's title and estates in Ireland after falling in battle. But that good luck doesn't last for long, as Lorna is spirited away by a greedy bastard, raped, and rescued by her Love For All Time, a Scottish mercenary in King Charles of Sweden's army.
Lorna finds herself an innocent in the intrigues of William & Mary's court, shipped off to Russia, reluctantly in love with the mad Peter the Great, and finally finding her HEA on the battlefield of Poltava, where the book ends.
Despite Lorna's trials and travails, she's remarkably chaste. She gets threatened a lot with dishonor, but suffers it only occasionally. The "mistress and plaything to three monarchs" on the back of the cover should really read "mistress to one, pawn to two." But I'm not quibbling. I'd never have heard about Augustus of Saxony otherwise (what a guy), so I'm not going to carp that there was no penetration of our poor heroine. As with early Bertrice Small, I loved the blend of fact and fiction.
The final quarter of the book started to drag a bit and feel disconnected from the rest, as the story focused more on King Charles' campaign against Tsar Peter and military strategies were delved into. But I put that down as a sign of the author's gender starting to get in the way. However, I didn't mind the sidetracking since I was avidly glued to every page of Robert K. Massie's biography Peter the Great, but for someone expecting a romance bodice ripper from beginning to end it might be a distraction.
But have no fear, if you liked Savage Surrender or those Bertrice Small tales where the heroine goes through a series of men and adventures over a period of time (in this case, 17 years), then this book won't disappoint.(less)
"Oh, love me, Jack, love me!" The Frenchwoman's passion-frenzied hands, so small and dainty in repose, now resembled the claws of a silver bird of prey tearing at the tender skin of his back, as Jack O'Connell, Irish soldier of fortune, rakehell, gambler, thief, cutpurse, occasional highwayman, and all-around rascal, strove with all his might, bull-like strength, and not inconsiderable will to obey his rapacious mistress.
Unfortunately the quote above is about the heroine's father, not the hero. The book opens with Jack O'Connell, occupation Randy Irish Lad Roaming Europe, having an interrupted night of passion with a near-albino French vixen noblewoman and getting ejected into the night with his life barely intact. Several years later, Jack and his erstwhile crony, drunken priest Father Liam, run across a scruffy imp called Angel with silver hair and gray eyes. Jack, drunken womanizer that he is, doesn't see any similarities to his long-ago one-night-stand and he and Liam become adoptive daddies to the foul-mouthed little Satan worshipper (she says Lucifer is her pop). To protect her virtue, they dress her as a boy, but she gets some schooling in the female social niceties from an old retired classy whore-friend of Jack's. (Of course it turns out to be advantageous later.)
One night, Angel (now called Jackie McKier) and Liam are setting up a fake mugging on the street to lure in a do-gooder, who they will then rob. The hero, the Duke of Avalon (aka "Satan" Blade), suspects what they're up to and hauls them into his den of iniquity and says he won't sic the law on them if they deliver a message for him. Unknown to them, Avalon is plotting to get William of Orange on the throne and depose James II. Jackie is reluctant and her pride at being caught is smarting to the extent that she wants to kill him, but this job leads her down a path of many adventures and some heartbreak as she eventually decides she loves the Duke, but her own assumptions about him (and his about her) make it all seem very hopeless and tangled until almost the very end.
This is a book that really defied all my expectations. I was expecting a bodice ripper. (It wasn't.) I wondered if the hero and heroine would ever have any genuine romantic moments or even have sex. (They don't.)
I like being surprised by a book, even if I go in thinking I'm going to get something different. If a romance doesn't go by-the-numbers and fits into predictable categories, believe me I'm more inclined to enjoy it. This story is mainly about Angel/Jackie and her growth from a thief and pickpocket with no loyalties but to herself and her "family" to becoming a loyal supporter of King William III. It climaxes when she's forced by foreign intrigue to ruin the trust she had managed to gain with her new monarch. It all ends happily, of course, but Jackie gets hurt and has crises of conscience in the meantime about her disguise as a man vs. her female feelings, and her haphazard Catholic indoctrination by Father Liam vs. the Protestant king she has grown to know personally.
The hero comes into the picture more fully during the last half of the book. His reputation is notorious, but that's all it is - a reputation based on rumor and innuendo, which he has done little to dispel in the interest of being given a wide berth in order to go about his treason. (Well, that's what it amounts to! But they're the good guys in this story.) His backstory was enough to make him quite an interesting guy, dedicated to the science of the day. His parents were scientists who traveled the world and he carries on their work in alchemy, astronomy, and other pursuits (but not astrology, you superstitious cretins).
I really enjoyed the secondary characters in this one, more than I normally do. There was no secondary romance, but it was a solid cast of supporting characters including John and Sarah Churchill (Winston's ancestors), the priest Liam (who was aggravating and endearing at the same time - he's basically a drunken sot, a coward, and fiercely loyal to Jackie), and the Jewish armorer Simon Martín, friend to the hero and loyal to Jackie in his own right. The villain and villainess were rotten to the core (the latter being Jackie's own mother), but they were lip-smackingly delicious to read.
While there was rape, the author didn't blow off the effect it had on Jackie. She's laid low by it, feels dirty and ruined and is listless. It's not dwelt upon for pages and pages, but the reader is given a short vignette of how the next few weeks after the event pass.
Since this isn't really a typical romance, it'll probably be easier to simply list the reasons why some might want to avoid it, because I suspect that it hits quite a few pet peeves out there: * the heroine is disguised as a boy for most of the book and manages to fool nearly everyone * the hero has those "funny feelings" about the lad and gets annoyed with both him and the heroine * the heroine gets raped, twice, by the bad guy * the hero and heroine don't have sex at all, and only kiss once (I think) * the only sex in this book has one or both of the bad guys doing it (and earlier, the heroine's father) * the heroine dresses as a girl to charm the hero (whom she hates) and he has no idea it's Jackie * there's an emphasis on adventure and the heroine's character rather than a binary romance * the supporting cast has lots of face time, although it's usually with either the hero or the heroine present
So it wasn't what I expected, but I loved it. Not amazingly brilliant, but very very enjoyable. It took place during a period I haven't read much about (the "Glorious Revolution") and did it in an engaging way. 4.5 stars
This book review has been provided by the No Book Left Behind Campaign! A Bodice Ripper Readers Anonymous group initiative to review the un-reviewed!(less)
I think Fern Michaels just got tossed off her "OMFG, this poorly-written shit is crazy awesome!" pedestal.
Passion's Sweet Sacrifice, looked at objecti...moreI think Fern Michaels just got tossed off her "OMFG, this poorly-written shit is crazy awesome!" pedestal.
Passion's Sweet Sacrifice, looked at objectively, is Utter Crap, written by a guy with only a passing acquaintance with the genre based solely on cash principles.
But sometimes that can be an asset, because rather than being one of many retreads of the same old stuff, Hepburne/Craig Broude's ineptitude has a reckless and clueless fun about it that ends up making it stand out from the pack.
Or maybe that's just me. I know I won't be forgetting this one for a good long while. Probably never. No doubt I will still giggle about a crate of coconuts on my deathbed.
And then someone will decide it's time to smother me with a pillow.
There are no words to describe this book. Literally no words. I'm finding it difficult to even begin this review. Where do I even start?
Well, first off: the cover. That's Lord Larry of Olivier sportin' a Blue Max and canoodling with Marilyn Monroe. Cover artist be using The Prince and the Showgirl as inspiration.
Is the cover even remotely related to the story itself? Well, yes, "related" as in "being so very not like it." The Germans in the story? Bad guys. Very bad guys. Kinky bad guys. (Which suits me fine, but that's beside the point.) Where's the hero on this cover? This is a first for me: a cover where the heroine is draped over the villain.
And the planes? Well, yeah, there are Sopwiths and a Fokker Dreidecker in it, in a totally historically inaccurate way.
And yes, the heroine is indeed a scantily-clad showgirl. So 2 out of 3 ain't bad and I guess it is more correct than not. Sorta.
But it's not what's on the cover that rates it 4 solid stars. It's the relentless, crazyass WTFery inside that kept me glued and LOLing from nearly the first page to the very end. Mr. Broude doesn't pause for coherency or accuracy, and gives solemnity a kick in the nuts at every opportunity. This is vintage Fern Michaels crazy, but more tawdry and fun.
If I had to sum up this book in one paragraph, it would be:
The pink-haired Sabrina St. Claire gets pre-war raped in a Washington DC meadow by a nasty German, drugged, and married off. She then escapes from Tahiti in a crate of coconuts. In Paris, she becomes a spy and striptease dancer because the Heinies threaten to kill a British boyfriend, Mike. Meanwhile, she bangs an American Han Solo called Dallas Hunter. A mess hall of German officers do their kinky, ebil thing to Sabrina and a tied-down Mike. The Red Baron shoots all three of them down over the North African jungle, where they get all horny over each other. Sabrina gets amnesia and becomes a native tribe's sun goddess who gets routinely aroused by the best warrior and almost gets burned on a pyre. Dallas and Mike rescue her horny butt, she gets her memory fucked back into her, and they go back to France where the war is happening and stuff. More spy stuff! Devious French torture to our heroine's clitoris! A trial and firing squad and last minute rescue! Sabrina finally chooses which guy she wants to have impale her loins for all time.
And then I could finally breathe again. It's been a long time since I've laughed so hard and I enjoyed every minute of it. Sabrina is almost charmingly naïve, and her traitorous body keeps things humping along. Dallas Hunter really was awesome and I'm psyched that he got his own book (although the price tag on it in the used book market is outrageous). Mike was so typical Tally-Ho Brit defending virtue and honor that I looked forward to the next "Eh what, you blighter?" thing he'd say next.
Even though I quickly got the tone of the book, the totally whack history kept throwing me for a loop. I had no idea just when the story was taking place. Historical events and real people mentioned simply didn't match up. It didn't annoy me, however; merely left me utterly baffled.
The story itself doesn't pause to think or make sense. It just does stuff and moves on. As nutty as that pithy little summary sounds, it doesn't do it justice. This is something that has to be read to be believed. Read it with your tongue in your cheek, just like the author wrote it.
After reading The Second Sunrise a mere two months later, I can honestly say that this book and TSS are among the best bad books I've ever, ever read. Adding to that list is one of my main goals in life.(less)
Review for the original 1984 edition: I can see why this gets so many raves. It has adventure, white-knuckle battle scenes, and a very violent and dram...moreReview for the original 1984 edition: I can see why this gets so many raves. It has adventure, white-knuckle battle scenes, and a very violent and dramatic love triangle that involves rape, adultery, love and hatred and insanity. The characters, historical setting, main plot, and subplots all fit. It was a tightly-written story with a flair in the writing that harkened back to the old swashbuckler flicks of the 40s and 50s. (Not so much Errol Flynn, but more hairy and robust. Think Burt Lancaster and Yul Brynner.)
The story even starts with action, as Summer Cambridge and her young brother Michael are adrift on the flotsam of their storm-wrecked ship in the Caribbean. Enter the hero, privateer Morgan Wade, who pulls them aboard against his better judgment and deals with Summer's immature intractability (and threats of disrupting his ship/kingdom by parading about above deck) by raping her and sending her into spirals of ecstasy. (Need you ask what got changed in Canham's re-edit?)
Complicating things is the fact that Summer's father is a British colonial governor, and he would rather keep his daughter's kidnapping by a pirate wanted by the British Navy on the downlow and away from the gossips. Summer, despite her body's pining for the handsome Morgan, decides to enter the marriage chosen for her and hope for the best. Of course you know that things won't go easy....
I know most reviews are about the hero and heroine, but I have to say that I thought the best character in the entire story was Summer's husband and Morgan's nemesis, Commodore Bennett Winfield. Age of Sail stuff gives me a girl-boner anyway, and "Master and Commander" is, like, one of the best films EVAH, so Winfield's character and Canham's two epic battle scenes had me purring like a kitten. But on a serious note, Winfield was a dynamic villain with a character arc that had me more sad for his downfall at the end of the story than glad that Summer and Morgan get their overdue HEA. It's a no-brainer that the good guys would win, but I wasn't expecting to see the bad guy given so much time in the spotlight. His decline from staid and smart officer into an Ahab was pretty gripping. Too bad more romances didn't have such a well-constructed adversary for the hero and heroine to fight against.
Winfield first appears as a courtly officer who is ambitious and dedicated to his career, but he makes Summer melt with his ardor and refusal to take advantage of her innocence. Blond-haired and blue-eyed with a charming smile, he's the very image of a very proper gentleman and an officer who has a career that can only go one way: up.
Winfield on the outside (not Jack Aubrey specifically, but general appearances):
As the story progresses, the internal layers of his character are gradually revealed: his weakness for one woman, his cold calculation, his autocratic streak, his deep years-long resentment of Morgan Wade and his single-minded and destructive obsession with killing him.
Winfield on the inside:
I thought that Winfield overshadowed Morgan Wade's character for the first half of the book, and even after Morgan appeared more often in the story, it was Winfield's character that still had my complete interest. After an initial squee over Morgan Wade during the first sea battle, I wasn't feeling much substance to his character and found Winfield the far more nuanced guy. Perhaps the revised edition by Canham makes Morgan's character more substantial in the beginning, and for that reason alone I would consider reading it, although I'm not normally interested in reading books that have been tinkered with to suit political correctness.
At any rate, I highly recommend this to any romance fan who likes plentiful action in their historicals, a dynamic style, and would like to see secondary characters that don't seem like token sidekicks or lame clichés.(less)
What could be better than a book with a hero named Maximian who is a noble and dutiful Roman general that gets on the bad side of a spoiled and psycho...moreWhat could be better than a book with a hero named Maximian who is a noble and dutiful Roman general that gets on the bad side of a spoiled and psychotically insecure future heir to the Roman Empire?
And what's more, the general's lady love also happens to be the lust object of said spoiled, psychotic heir?
Sound even slightly familiar?
Apart from being a smutty fix for fans of Gladiator (who may find it deliciously easy to project Russell Crowe and Joaquin Phoenix into these respective roles, or maybe it's just me), it's a pretty good yarn written with a screenwriter's eye for Technicolor, Cinemascope, and bombastic climaxes. No surprise, since the author Jeanne Duval (aka Virginia Coffman of gothic fame) toiled away in the trenches of studio script departments in the 1940s and 1950s. By her own accounts, she loved Roman History, and she knew how to craft that love into a compelling, visual story.
Lysandra is a young Gallic maiden with a Greek father, whose manly charms with Maximian's scheming wife have landed him in a fix with the local authorities. Her dad's fate (and her eventual enslavement) causes Lysandra to loathe Maximian, who only followed Roman justice by the book (so don't blame him!). Still, there is an undeniable emotional spark between the general and the half-his-age lass, a tenuous connection that endures even during the chaotic upheaval of The Year of the Four Emperors.
There's plenty of detail about the ins and outs of events of that single year, where Nero killed himself and a succession of Roman general-emperors marched into Rome with the Praetorian Guard's fickle blessing. I was somewhat unfamiliar with it all (it's been a long time since I've read about that period), and even though it was pretty dense at times it put all the uncertainty and tentative actions by the heroine and others into context. In short, no one knows if the side they're allied with is going to be in power in the morning, and it feels like everyone is a bunch of closed-mouth schemers. Noble loyalty, such as Maximian's to General Vespasian and his son Titus, doesn't go for much. And it's frustrating when it gets him into trouble with the psychotically insecure Domitian and his own wife, but then he wouldn't be gorgeously noble and hunky Maximian now, would he?
That's really my only major gripe about this book - the dense politicking that made it really hard to pick it back up after a reading hiatus of a couple days and still remember what was going on. But it's entirely my own fault for doing that.
That said, I wish there had been more scenes between Max and Lysandra because they were both very mature characters and interacted on an adult level, which is pretty damn rare in romance. Lysandra in particular has a moment of supreme self-sacrifice, which normally irritates me because it seems so arbitrary and plot-serving, but in this case it was a natural and believable action with a true understanding of her lover's personality. Even though all their hot lovin' was fade-to-black or fade-in post-coital, they were a very lovely and human couple with a touching love story that spans the years and all kinds of trials and danger, including tiger fights in arenas and cold-blooded imperial connivance and manipulation.
The finale of the book - the eruption of Vesuvius - seemed slightly tacked on to get in a blockbuster climax, but for all its cheesiness, it is written with such an eye for the visual that I could see it all play out, shot for shot, with big budget SFX and 3D (especially those flaming fireballs). Well done, Madame Author.
There's plenty of stuff packed into these 396 pages, probably enough to have made a more naturally-flowing story with 100 or more extra pages. But for what it is, it's still a cracking good read with likeable protagonists and a cinematic visual flair.
For a less fulsome praisy review, check out my Buddy Read partner's musings here.(less)
When Cynara's daddy dies, she makes the nasty discovery that no only she is now dirt poor, but her guardianship has been transferred to a distant cous...moreWhen Cynara's daddy dies, she makes the nasty discovery that no only she is now dirt poor, but her guardianship has been transferred to a distant cousin and her husband. Far from being a pampered and welcome houseguest, Cynara is made a servant and chased after and raped by both the master of the house and his spoiled son.
The only bright spot in Cynara's miserable new life is the sullen stable groom Evan, who is treated just as badly by his betters and only rarely lets his more sensitive side show to anyone. Though they both fall in love with each other, they keep the other at a distance and let events and circumstance keep them apart over and over.
This one has both the good and bad of the old bodice rippers. Cynara is a rather capable and level-headed heroine...but she has a stupid streak that mercifully shows up very late in the game. Evan is super-swoonworthy (totes one of my favorites for all time), the damaged hero with an iron pride that keeps him going through all kinds of bad turns....but he is easily thwarted when he shouldn't be. The Big Misunderstanding starts out small...but it grows and grows by the end.
So there were plenty of teeth-grinding moments, especially after the halfway mark, but it started out very strong and carried me all the way through to the end and left me feeling very satisfied and happy that Flores wrote one other bodice ripper chunkster (Bittersweet).
Cynara is a real rough one, with the heroine enduring multiple rapes and odd sexual situations from quite a few quarters. She and the hero don't sleep together until very late in the book. But I was so happy when it finally happened, even though these two crazy kids did their best to sabotage any good feelings they might have within seconds. Yeah, they're that kind of romance couple. The kind you want to hug and throttle.
It also has a mystery woven throughout about Evan's true parentage that dovetailed nicely into the final climax with the murderer being revealed and inheritances getting sorted out. It didn't feel rushed or thrown into it like so many other mysteries in romance.
Overall a great and emotional old school romance, but not one for the squeamish.(less)
This book is brought to you by The Pit of Ultimate Darkness....
Meet the real authors of this goofy crackfest.
Greer's novel is a bizarre bodice ripper...moreThis book is brought to you by The Pit of Ultimate Darkness....
Meet the real authors of this goofy crackfest.
Greer's novel is a bizarre bodice ripper set in the disco era. The plot is something I doubt you've ever read on a back cover. One is either repulsed or fascinated. Naturally, once I read it, I had to get that bad boy in my grubby paws ASAP. My euphoric optimism usually bites me on the ass, but this one delivered.
(There are lots of spoilers and GIFs. You have been warned.)
The main character, Jenny Townsend, grows up in an orphanage until she is whisked away at age 17 by the 84-year old Simon Townsend, who has fallen in love with her at first sight. Since he's the benefactor of the place, the nuns have no problem handing her over to him as a wide-eyed innocent child bride.
Simon is a Florida corporatist, mega-rich in citrus and vegetables and grocery stores. He's got everything, except he can't bed his wife because of the little matter of it possibly killing his old ticker. But for three years they pet and fondle each other until Simon feels the end drawing near and tells Jenny of his Brilliant Plan that she must carry through after he's dead.
Which is to sleep with all of his grandsons and pick the one she feels love for.
Perfect plan! What could go wrong?
Enter Tom March, a rough farmer guy from Missouri who has relocated to Florida to better the lives of migrant workers who slave away for the Townsends. He bursts into Jenny's penthouse on the day of Si's funeral, making demands and being all manly and forceful. Unfortunately for Jenny....
When Tom's tough negotiations quickly take the form of rape, her body bludgeons what few brain cells she has. Unbeknownst to her, she's actually been gagging for a rigid, virile peen for years.
Jenny is a dim little bulb. Probably one of the dumbest heroines ever. Sex with Tom makes her yearn for it even more, and her plan to get him out of her system is to have sex with him repeatedly until she gets sick of it. But whenever she swims to his house in the nude and shows up at his beachfront property demanding to be skewered with his Show Me Missouri lovin', she leaves each time wanting it more and more. But she will not deviate from her plan to rid herself of Tom March by getting reamed over and over.
Meanwhile, she starts on Si's plan to shag all of his grandsons: Simon, Rolf, and David. She decides that she will marry the one who sexes her up so awesomely that she forgets Tom March entirely. She even does some penis test-driving outside the Townsend clan, but it all ends in failure. Tom March has the only junk that thorougly dazzles Jenny the Crotch-Moth.
Speaking of which, Tom March is quite the prize. He rarely lets an opportunity pass to grab Jenny and throw her onto the bed, where they mate like schizophrenic horny muskrats. He's also not against telling Jenny her disco attire makes her look like a whore. He's also a very traditional guy cuz he's from Missoura (though he's one of those millionaire large-scale farmers), and his brilliant plan is to get Jenny pregnant to make her more biddable and show her who's boss. When he finds out that she's been taking birth control pills, he goes ape dump, flushes them, and then rapes her back into the proper procreational way of things.
If he has any good qualities, it's being a sort of dog whisperer to Jenny's stable of poor, high-strung racing greyhounds.
Meanwhile, someone has obviously been trying to get rid of both Tom and Jenny by sabotaging this or that, and the end of the book took on a real Anne Stuart half-assed mystery goof-nuttery with murder attempts that propel our hero and heroine to realize that they might never see each other again and that they were deeply in love ALL ALONG.
In among all the smut and bodice ripper flailing hy-ster-icks, there was an important theme that shone through about the greedy 1% bastardness of the Townsend clan. They are very reluctant to invest in clean housing conditions or a livable wage for their workers because it will cut into the profit margin even a little. (Gasp! But...but how will we finance the refurbishment of our yacht??) Jenny, so devoted to Old Man Si, has a crisis of conscience when she sees the evidence of decades of neglect first-hand. Si, so perfect and flawless, is revealed to be a greedy old man who shafted his workers and, from the grave, was going to shaft his adoring widow with his Brilliant Plan in order to keep the money in the family. That he fails on both counts in the end is quite satisfactory.
OK, serious moment over.
So we ended this total crackfest with Jenny riding into the sunset as the baby-making bride of a millionaire shit-kicker in Missouri. Rather than living off the miserable sweat of unfortunate migrant workers, Jenny's nest is now lined with cash from government farm subsidies.
Happiness all around.
If you love WTF trainwrecks, this is a must-read. There's even some scenes in a disco. Read those status updates. How can you resist?