Hearts of Fire by Miranda Lee

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Hearts of Fire, Miranda Lee, Harlequin, 2002

3 Stars

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Book – Hearts of Fire by Miranda Lee

Miranda Lee’s “Hearts of Fire” series for the Harlequin Presents line was an epic six-book series that focused on the lives of two warring families in the glittering Sydney social set. While each book had its own romance, the over-arching storyline was that of the sexually-damaged Nathan and his much younger and innocent wife, Gemma. I seem to be one of the few readers who enjoyed the series.

As for Hearts of Fire, a full-length romantic suspense novel… Well, it was a disappointing conclusion to the Australian “Hearts of Fire” series, if only because the series was so good and this book is rather anticlimactic.

Couple #1

Readers may recall that Nathan, the hero of the original series, had a daughter from his first marriage, Kirsty. Kirsty has loved Ryan since he saved her from a kidnapping when she was a teenager. But Ryan was married, so nothing came out of it.

Years later, there are threats against Kirsty. Nathan hires Ryan to protect his daughter…and bang her. Yup, Daddy dearest hires a bodyguard to help Kirsty loosen up, and take her virginity once and for all! Creepy!

Secrets from the past come to light as Kirsty and Ryan work together to find out who’s behind the threats. They also draw closer together as Ryan can no longer hide his attraction to Kirsty.

Shallow quibble: why did Kirsty dye her beautiful red hair blonde? I know she wanted anonymity after being kidnapped as a teenager, but I always imagined Kirsty looking a certain way, and that wasn’t it.

Ryan is an ok hero, although a bit of a man-slut like Kirsty’s dad was. He’s also a bit oblivious as a bodyguard, unable to piece together who the stalker is almost before it’s too late.

Couple #2

Meanwhile, Nathan is taking his wife Gemma on a romantic cruise. His marriage with Gemma has been on the rocks lately since he had a vasectomy without her knowledge. Gemma had wanted a houseful of children, but Nathan was content with two sons. So, controlling man that he is, Nathan took matters into his own hands without consulting Gemma.

Things look rough for the original “Hearts of Fire” pair. Will Gemma ever forgive Nathan? Will Nathan find consolation in another woman’s arms?

Big spoiler here: I hate the fact that Nathan has a secret daughter from a previous, horrible relationship. A much, much older woman (a good friend of his mother’s) basically sexually abused/raped him when he was sixteen and orphaned. I didn’t see the need for Mimi’s character at all.

My Opinion

The villain was predictable, and I hated Nathan’s lies to Gemma.

Still, it’s a Miranda Lee book. It was filled with the requisite sensuality found in her previous works. Even her “bad” books aren’t that bad! This was a good read, but not great or excellent as her previous installments in the “Hearts of Fire” were.

Surviving Raine by Shay Savage

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Surviving Raine, Shay Savage, 2013, Createspace Independent Publishing

WARNING: OFFENSIVE CONTENT & SPOILER ALERT ⚠

2 Stars

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Some Questions For Lovers of Romance Novels

Romance readers, are you tired of heroes who never speak their minds; those enigmatic, steely-gazed men who make heroines tremor with just one harshly uttered word?

Does it bother you when an author writes an inscrutable male protagonist whose emotions are a mystery until the very end?

Do you miss out on not experiencing every single brainfart that whiffs through the hero’s cavernous head?

Book – Surviving Raine by Shay Savage

In Shay Savage’s Surviving Raine, Bastian, a bad boy with lots of baggage, finds himself adrift in the ocean with Raine, a young woman with lots of heart. You won’t have to worry about him keeping his card close to his chest! This is first-person, introspective, bellybutton-lint-picking on a level never endured before! (By me, at least!)

See it all in full-color Hero-Vision!

Sigh in delight as we get these priceless nuggets of gold:

Toss her overboard or stick my tongue down her throat? I couldn’t decide, and it fucking ticked me off.

SURVIVING RAINE

(I understand Frank Reynolds and Mac had the same problem on “It’s Always Sun in Philadelphia” when they got stuck on a life raft. Thank God they found the rum ham.)

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What to do when you’re trapped on a dinghy floating in the ocean?

Feel the chills when you read the cutesy reference to the title:

I was pretty confident I could survive in a life raft for quite some time, but survive Raine without my cock jumping straight out of my shorts like a divining rod? Not sure.

SURVIVING RAINE

Witness the horrors as Bastian recounts the brutality of his tough life as he spends weeks adrift at sea in a life raft with a sexy girl who wants to heal his soul! Like, the toughest life anyone’s ever lived. On a scale of 1-10, this is how fucked up Bastian is:

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11 is greater than 10!

That fucking bad.

Don’t believe it? Hear it directly from Bastian’s mouth how broken he is:

“Do you think I’m a fucking idiot?
“No [Bastian], I think you’re sick.”
“Sick.”
I laughed and shook my head at her. “You think I’m sick? Baby, you have no idea all the sick twisted shit I’ve done. The number of people I’ve slaughtered, the number of women I’ve fucked. Shit–I don’t even remember how many!”

SURVIVING RAINE

More Question To Ponder

Readers, do you prefer your romance heroines to be a totally blank slate? Do you think she should be little more than a knock-out bod’ that the hero wants to fuck?

Do you often ask yourself why the heroine in a romance novel should have any discernable qualities other than being a hot, sweet, orphaned quasi-virgin (yeah, she’s, had sex, but no ‘gasms) who saves unwanted doggies and one unwanted, unlovable man?

Do you hate it when romances have a heroine who’s smart, inventive, quick thinking, conflicted, tormented, or even the slightest bit interesting?

If so, THIS is your book!

Act Fast; Supplies Are Limited

While the author uses a literary device called a “plot,” the plot is just there to get these two disparate people together. Bastian and Raine are lost at sea and then stranded on an island with only their wits (not much on Raine’s part) for survival. Man vs. Nature is just the backdrop. Surviving Raine is about one unwanted, tortured, neglected, abused, unlovable, misguided, self-hating, angry, sad, bitter man in need of the one woman who will heal him with her gentle, bland, boring personality and–oh yes–true love.

But wait! THERE’S MORE!

Read now, and you’ll get these extras:

  • Hero was abused by his biological family, who then callously abandoned him in a bar when he was a toddler. Nightmares haunt him.
  • Hero was tossed around from foster family to foster family because he is unlovable… Just like this guy:
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Bastian is as unlovable as this sad puppy.

(Ladies out there, are any of you ovulating out of pity yet? No? Not even a little? What, are your hearts made of cold iron?)

  • Bastian ended up in juvie as a kid where he had a tragic relationship with a woman he used sexually and is now tormented by her brutal death. The nightmares haunt him still.
  • There’s some borrowing from other more successful books. There’s an unbelievable “Hunger Games” back story where the hero used to engage in fight-to-the-death challenges in arenas worldwide while criminal billionaires bet on which one of the many combatants would survive. Of course, our hero Bastian was the champion, “playing” for years, winning every match (duh) and raking in millions! But still, he is plagued by the battles and killings. The nightmares haunt him still.

For more drama-trauma that will get you hot:

  • Bastian changes his name and starts a new anonymous life at sea. He leaves the past behind and only screws who-ores. The nightmares haunt him still.
  • To forget it all, our hero is an alcoholic. a major, major alcoholic. So bad he goes through extreme withdrawal, coming close to death. This was another reason why a rum ham in the life raft was required! Bastian was as sick as these guys:
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In case I haven’t mentioned it, I’m a big fan of “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia”

And only poor, hapless Raine can save him!

If you’re a fertile female and not yet releasing ova perhaps this final fact might do the trick.

  • Even though Bastian uses a huge variety of curse words in almost every paragraph, he’s no troglodyte. He knows his fucking poetry. He’s an educated brute!

Hey, if this guy can get his Legal Degree from the University of American Samoa’s correspondence school:

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I also enjoy watching “Better Call Saul”

There’s no reason why Bastian can’t get his master’s degree in English Literature! He can quote the English bard whenever the Savage apparently feels it’s necessary to add some class to Bastian’s ass.

Opinion

Bastian is really nothing more than a pathetic, unwanted puppy dog who needs gentleness and affection. Raine is constantly comparing him to Mr. Fluffy, a pit bull she saved from a dog-fighting ring. See? Mr. Fluffy was a misunderstood sweetie-pie forced into cruel underground fight-to-the-death matches, just like Bastian. With Raine’s love, Mr. Fluffy was healed and saved. (By the way, the heroine is very young and starting college. What happened to Mr. Fluffy?)

Oh, I get the allure of these books. The intense need to love a man who’s hurting and heal him with your love, because you and only you can! I get the whole “I want to absolve you bad boy of all your sins and vice-versa.” As a teen, I would sigh over the lyrics of just about every Depeche Mode song.

There’ll be times
When my crimes
Will seem almost unforgivable…
…Will you take the pain
I will give to you
Again and again…

STRANGELOVE – DEPECHE MODE

&

Things on your chest
You need to confess
I will deliver
You know I’m a forgive
r

PERSONAL JESUS – DEPECHE MODE

Listening to Dave Gahan and Martin Gore sing about being wicked, evil men who wanted to find release in the love of a good woman (or drugs, or whatever) sent shivers up my spine as a teen (and still does to this day). So I understand the attraction for this kind of romance. Unfortunately for me, there were no shivers here.

It was just emotional crap piled on and on and on! There’s way too much of Bastian and not enough of Raine. Sadly, I don’t think changing that would have made this any better as both characters sucked. Everything’s so overwrought.

More of My Opinion

All the dramas and traumas were hilarious. I love a book that make me feel so intensely I cry, but this took the pain and suffering beyond ludicrous speed. It went plaid.

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This reference is from “Spaceballs.” You should watch that movie instead of reading this book.

Hey, I’m the wrong audience for this book, I understand. Savage fooled me with Transcendence. I loved that one! Transcendence was a hero’s POV story about another caveman, but a real one who couldn’t speak.

Surviving Raine takes a caveman, puts him in the early 21st century with access to plenty of poon and booze then gives him the power of curse words. And Bastian loves using them! I noted while reading that the “F” word and its variants are used about 750 times here.

I’m mentioning this, not because I found it offensive—fuck no, but because: 1) It was cuter in Transcendence when all the hero could do was say “Uggh” and “Beh.” 2) It cemented my preference for non-contemporary heroes who are full-grown adults and can express themselves with a bit of eloquence or charm.

Bastian is 29 but acts 15. I’ve come to a point in my life where a man on the “good side” of 20 no longer appeals, no matter how rock-hard his abs are. (I never gave much of a care for abs anyway. A little beer belly is not a turn-off. I was always an arms/shoulders/chest kind of woman.)

My Final Opinion, I Swear

Now where was I?

Yeah, this book. I know I filled my review with a bunch of references to pop culture stuff that amuses me, and that’s not my typical review style. I threw so much crap in here that it might not make much sense, but hey, that was my experience reading Surviving Raine, and I simply wanted to share the feeling.

Maybe I’ll take a page out of Bastian and the Gang’s book and do what they do best to forget this disaster:

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If you’ve never seen an episode of “It’s Always Sunny in Philadephia” start now; it’s a riot!

I gave the stupid book a generous 2 stars for the laughs. But the joke’s on me because I bought the sequel to this piece of crap long before reading the first book…

So ha, ha, ha! You got me, Shay Savage. You got me.

P.S. What did happen to Mr. Fluffy? 😦

Unfinished Business by Suzanne Forster

Unfinished Business, Suzanne Forster, Harlequin, 2005

2.5 Stars

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

Book – Unfinished Business by Suzanne Forster

Suzanne Forster was an author I’d read before Unfinished Business. This book arrived in one of my monthly subscriptions to category romances. Receiving it was a pleasant surprise, as I’d enjoyed Foster’s previous works. Sucks for me that this one was not as fun as what I’d read before.

Back in the early 2000s I briefly subscribed to Harlequin’s Blaze imprint (they don’t publish those anymore, do they?). To my disappointment, I was not too impressed with most of them. I think I DNFed half that I started. The romances either were all about sex with little plot or mildly sexy stories with lots of suspense, better suited to Harlequin’s Intrigue or Romantic Suspense lines.

Blazes were the replacement for the Temptation imprint, which I preferred as they ranged from run-of-the-mill romances to paranormals with just about anything else in between, and enough steam to satisfy. In the new millennium, romance novels were less euphemistic than in the past with more erotic scenes. Harlequin’s Blaze line was supposed to cash in on that.

In my eyes, I thought the authors were trying too hard to be kinky. Most love scenes read the same: vanilla BDSM, being tied up, light spanking, use of toys… Sure the sex was there, but the love stories lacked heart.

The Plot

A while back, Melissa had a one-night stand in Cancun. She awoke in a hung-over daze with a ring on her finger. Had she just marry some random stranger? Before her hunk’s sleep can be disturbed, Melissa flees and leaves Mexico behind her.

In the ensuing years she becomes a wildly successful author. Her books? Well, they’re about sex, of course! She details all all the naughty ways to make love. Melissa uses her “marriage” for her credentials. In truth, Melissa has no love life at all, just what’s in her memories and imagination. But she’s a great faker and the media makes her a sensation.

To Melissa’s shock, after she’s interviewed on a talk show, who should return to her life, but Tony the very man she “married.” Tony wants answers as to why she left him behind. Moreover, why is she pretending they’re still together?

Melissa makes lame excuses and is perturbed by her intense attraction to him. Tony pursues her, accompanying her while she advertises her book. He becomes part of the promotional campaign. The pair pretend to be deeply in love. Pretense turns into reality as Melissa and Tony spend more and more time together.

Later on, Melissa and Tony appear on a 24-hour reality show and have rather boring sex under the covers while the cameras are on.

He also shaves her legs with a straightedge razor. Was that’s supposed to be erotic? When my legs are hairy, I do not want my man touching them, even if it’s to help groom.

Opinion

I remember being really disappointed by the lackluster love scenes in this one. The plot was rom-com cute, but poorly executed. (I could swear a Lifetime flick starring Laura Prepon from “That ’70s Show” ripped off this plot, or at least part of it [Note: It did! The movie was called “Romancing The Bride” and was only loosely based on Unfinished Business]).

So what were the highlights?

The story was mildly funny, as Suzanne Forster has a good sense of humor, so that was a positive.

Lamentably, the erotic scenes failed to titillate. For example, Melissa and Tony engaged in lots of finger-licking, which is fine for Cheeto-dusted fingers. When it comes to bedroom foreplay, that’s gross. Hey, I believe in different strokes and all that, but do people really get turned on by having their fingers sucked? Like, what if the woman has pointed, acrylic nails or the guy hasn’t watched his hands after going to the bathroom? That’s as sexy as licking the inside of somebody’s stinky, lint-filled belly button.

All in all, however, this was a mediocre read, as it lacked that sexy over-the-top oomph I was expecting.

Rock Chick Regret by Kristen Ashley

Rock Chick Regret, Kristen Ashley, 2011

1 Star DNF

Rating: 1 out of 5.

I’ve not kept up with Romance genre trends, so I don’t know who the popular authors in the Current Year are. A few years back, everybody was gushing about Kristen Ashley. For all I know, they still are. Optimistically, I purchased about a half dozen of her e-books and gave her a shot. First, I read Lacybourne Manor although I didn’t really care for the writing style, nor the screwball, immature-in-mind-but-not-in-years heroine. But you all know what they say about falling off a horse. Plus, if I don’t like something the first time, I’ll give it a second just to make sure the dissatisfaction wasn’t a one-off thing. 

It wasn’t.

I Couldn’t Even Finish It!

In vain I attempted to complete Kristen Ashley’s Rock Chick Regret. I read as much as I could tolerate, then noped out of that book at 50%. Kristen Ashley is just not my cuppa. I don’t rate DNF books unless I get at least halfway through. Since I passed that mark, I can with a clear conscience give this book a big thumbs down.

I cannot relate to the people and world Ashley creates. Her characters are vapid, shallow, and immature at best, and cardboard cutouts and stereotypes at worst. 

To any Ashley fans, I mean no offense with my words. Everybody has different tastes and that has no bearing on the kind of person one is. There are people who genuinely like Anisette liqueur and black licorice and I will never understand why.

Then again, I despise mayonnaise, ketchup, and tomatoes. That’s pretty weird.

I have low standards when it comes to entertainment. All I ask is that it provides me with some form of enjoyment. It need not be highbrow, popular with audiences, or critically lauded. My 2nd favorite Star Wars film is unironically Attack of the Clones.

The Book – Rock Chick Regret

There’s no handling this with kid gloves; I hated Rock Chick Regret. I know it’s kind of stupid to jump into book 7 of a series, but I’d gotten the impression from reviews that this was the best of the bunch. If you’ve read the novel, you know the plot. Briefly, the daughter of a crime boss is raped and goes to the “Hot Bunch” (a security team) for protection, especially seeking out “the guy-who-could-have-been” Hector. Hector used to work for Sadie’s dad and now is fiercely protective of her after her tragedy. 

Yada, yada, yada, Sadie and Hector’s romance unfolds as “The Hot Bunch,” Hector, and Sadie plan to get the bad guys.

These people are in their thirties and forties and refer to themselves as the “Rock Chicks” and “Hot Bunch.” I know 30 is the new 21, and even I at the decrepit age of 43, still enjoy a bit of the bohemian life. However, these adults in their 30s carry on like teenagers, posing like “cool kids,” partying, and being overall vapid as can be. All they care about are clothes, and not just any clothes, but designer brands, described in painstaking detail that would have GRR Martin or Bertrice Small (RIP) say: “Hold on, there, don’t you think that’s a bit too much clothes porn?” 

Mean Girls and Stale Clichés 

The Rock Chicks are utter cows, the catty, cliquey types who make me happy that, other than my many sisters, my relationships with female friends are on a one-on-one basis. First, they’re bitchy to Sadie, then after they find out about her tragic rape, they turn around and are suddenly BFFs for life, shouting to all and sundry about Sadie’s violation.  

The characters are just reduced down to superficial basics: Hector, the Hispanic hottie who calls Sadie his Mamacita (look, I’m Latina and I know that Mami & Papi are used as terms of affection between lovers, but that’s always been a no-no in my family. My man is my man, not my Daddy); the gay cuddly BFFs that are used as “purse puppies” to show how open and cool Sadie is (hat-tip to Ya Boi Zack for that term); cut-out villains that are evil because good is dumb; Sadie, the icy cold blonde princess, who’s really not icy at all, no matter how many times we’re told that; the super, awesome girlfriends; and their uber-alpha, buff, ultra-possessive men.

There’s a scene where Sadie’s friend Buddy introduces her to his “lesbian friend, Bex.” Who does that?

“Hi, this is my bi-polar friend Sal, my vegan friend Polly, and my Indigenous Peoples friend Joaquin.” People aren’t people in this book, they’re distilled to traits.

My Opinion

This book was so bad, it made me question myself. Was I that much of a hoity-toity snob that I couldn’t appreciate a little bit of check-your-brains-at-the-door-fun-&-just-enjoy-the-ride romance? Me, hoity-toity about reading tastes? Me, the anti-censorship stalwart, the staunch defender of un-PC 70s-80s bodice rippers, a reader of really crappy Zebra, Pinnacle, and Playboy Press pulps?

Reading this book made me feel like Homer Simpson, the iconic cartoon schlub, in that episode where he moves to the boonies and the local yokels accuse him of putting on airs:

Farmer 1: Well, well. Look at the city slicker pulling up in his fancy German car.
Homer: This car was made in Guatemala.
Farmer 2: Well, pardon us, Mr. Gucci loafers.
Homer: I bought these shoes from a hobo.
Farmer 1: Well, la-de-da, Mr. Park Avenue manicure.
Homer: I’m sorry, I believe in good grooming.

THE SIMPSONS

There’s a lot of popular stuff out there I don’t like. Fortunately, those authors have legions of fans to buy their books and provide adulation, so a peon like me writing a bad review is no biggie. It’s a big world with plenty of stories, and hopefully, we can all agree that while not everything is for everybody, there are some things out there for everyone.