All About Romance
Year 2000 Reviews Parody Contest

January 1, 2001

Happy New Year, everyone! Today we announce the winner in our second annual Reviews Parody Contest. I got a tremendous kick out of each and every entry in the contest (and our reviewer "samples" too), didn't you?

We began this contest in 1999 - it was the brainchild of Robin Uncapher. As with last year, we encouraged all readers and authors to skewer us again. Those entering the contest were asked to make up a book just for the chance to review it or to write a satirical review of any of our reviews or features. Some chose to apply some of our romance style rules to a classic - for instance, was Jane Eyre nothing more than a tired governess romance that relies on a Big Secret? Would we have criticized Emma as simply a Big Misunderstanding "romance light" novel? Participants were told to feel free to gush about a book they hated or critize a book they loved, and given permission to poke fun at AAR or any other publication. Five of the lucky entrants have won an author-autographed book just for sending in an entry - they are "Nanette Nickleby," "J.M.E," "I.M.Cross," Susan Brewster, and "Germaine Sheppard." Books/bookmarks for the first three names listed are ready for the mail and will be mailed January 2nd. The latter two will go out approximately one week after that.

The grand-prize winner, as voted on by you, the reader is:

The Sister and the Slinger by J.M.E.

Congratulations, J.M.E., on your win! It was a very close election - you won by a single hanging chad. As soon as you have your thoughts formulated, let me know and I'll post them here. Take a look at the author-autographed books on our Contests page, then let me know which two you'd like. They'll be mailed shortly, along with some of our AAR Bookmarks.

01/13/01: J.M.E has selected Teresa Medeiros' Charming the Prince and Carolina Rose by Tracy Sumner as her two prizes. She writes, "I'm so excited about winning the parody contest! I loved the other entries, especially "Passion's Savage Lusting Love." It was absolutely dead on, as far as I'm concerned. Thank you so much, I had a lot of fun writing my entry and reading everyone else's."

Below you will find all ten entries. Following them are my own expert analysis (I'll even shared which parody I voted for), along with a link to the samples as prepared by our review staff.

Emma

Jane Austen, 1515, Regency Romance

Grade:D+
Sensuality:E-mail me if you find it

I always wondered why Emma is such a popular name in England. The most obvious explanation would of course be that all those doting parents named their children after one of the most famous heroines in English literature. But after reading the book, I have serious doubts about this theory. After all, who would want to name their child after a meddling busybody? Because this is what Emma is to me - not the feisty, beautiful heroine she was probably intended to be, but a spoiled brat and a snob to boot. For all you fans of Austen, I am really sorry for sacrificing one of your favorites at the altar of criticism. It must be a sacrilege to you, but you expect us reviewers to be honest, right?

Typically of Regencies, the plot of Emma is quite simple: it is the story of a young woman whose almost obsessive matchmaking and desire to manipulate her friends gets her into many trials and tribulations until she finally recognizes her mistake and in the process finds her own match when she least expects it. So far, so good. Sounds rather promising, doesn’t it? I have to disappoint you, though. If a story-line is that plain, you need outstanding characters to capture your interest. This is clearly where the book fails.

Emma Woodhouse is the youngest of two daughters and as such has always had a pleasant and comfortable life. Since her mother died early, she has been her father’s pampered favorite. She is described as confident and bright, but even the author makes no bones about her flawed character: “The real evils, indeed, of Emma’s situation were the power of having rather too much her own way, and a disposition to think a little too well of herself." A little??? If you need a definition of vain, conceited, snobbish, just take a look at Emma and you won’t need a dictionary anymore...

Well, sometimes it happens that the heroine is a disappointment, but that the hero saves the day. When I read about his name, I became increasingly optimistic that this would be the case: Mr Knightley - doesn’t this sound wonderfully heroic? But again my expectations were crushed. Mr Knightley is decribed as “a sensible man about seven or eight-and thirty", and considering that Emma is in her early twenties, the difference in age quickly became off-putting. And who wants a “sensible" hero, anyway? “Passionate, wild, brooding" - this is what I want, and don’t call me shallow for it. In Emma, however, the tempestuous love-story that would have redeemed the book was conspicuously absent.

Nevertheless, I did not give up hope. Never accuse a reviewer of throwing in the towel too early! With damp palms, a dry mouth and heart palpitations I awaited their mutual confessions of love - after around 400 pages, mind you. Despite their so far rather reserved relationship, I was sure that once they let down their guard, they would at least share a passionate kiss or at best, our hero would drag Emma behind the bushes, show her his Mr Knightley and take some of the starch out of her dress.

It would be an understatement to say that I was disappointed; deflated, devastated, rabid would be more like it. Hey, I don’t read romances for the sex alone, but there is nothing more frustrating than a stingy pay-off. From that point on, I knew that those two would continue to live as brother and sister. Even in bed, Mr Knightley would not take off his cravat, and Emma would never unlace her corset. On the other hand, it highly doubtful that they will ever find their way into bed together. I mean, Emma insists on calling him Mr Knightley even after they are married! Can you imagine calling your husband Mr Smith or Mr Miller when you are having a romantic evening?

The only thing that made this book readable were the secondary romances, which in their emotional intensity completely overshadow the primary love-story. There is Jane Fairfax, a poor relation with a suitably troubled past, who is secretly in love with Frank Churchill, a rogue with a heart of gold. And then there is Harriet, a modest, kind and utterly lovely girl, who suffers immensely under Emma’s manipulations, but is eventually liberated from her clutches by the charming Mr Martin. A true Cinderella story worthy of its own book, if you ask me! Compared to Harriet, Emma appeared like the villain of the book. This is why I opt for an alternative title: the book should be called Harriet.

--Pat Peeve (aka Vivien Fritsche)

P.S.: Not only romance heroines are feisty, we reviewers are a pretty feisty lot, as well, you know. I thought that my new and valuable insight - that Emma was highly overestimated - should be shared with professors of literature, who still labor under the illusion that they have a masterpiece in their hands. Could you believe it, they did not take me seriously! One almost burst a blood vessel, another started laughing uproariously, another one began to cry bitterly and a fourth one had me thrown out of his office. What does this tell you? Being a reviewer is a tough job - but someone’s got to do it.

Moby Dick

Herman Melville, American Historical Fiction (1850's)

Grade:B+
Sensuality:Subtle

Although the romance reading audience is predominantly female, many gay men also enjoy well-crafted stories about relationships. But as one AAR poster has complained, there don't seem to be any such novels about male-male romances. Sex, yes, but not romance. I would tell those looking for a good homoerotic tale to search no farther than their high school reading list. I'm talking about Moby-Dick, maligned by generations of students forced to suffer through hundreds of pages with chapter titles like "The Sperm Whale's Head-Contrasted View."

The discerning and sensitive reader, however, can find a deeply touching story about love and friendship between two of the sailors on the doomed Pequod. It takes the archtype of the dark and forbidding Other cherished by Amanda Quick fans to a new level, while breaking many of the genre's conventions to prove love's power.

The narrator Ishmael, seeking lodging for the night in the whaling town of Nantucket, comes to the Spouter Inn. The landlord tells him that there's room, if Ishmael is willing to share his bed with a harpooneer. At first the weary Ishmael consents, but as he eats dinner he begins to wonder what sort of man he'll be spending the night with.

"I could not help it, but I began to feel suspicious of this 'dark complexioned' harpooneer. At any rate, I made up my mind that if it so turned out that we should sleep together, he must undress and get into bed before I did."

Ishmael's understandable modesty and trepidation reminded me greatly of many of my favorite heroines. Here is no TSTL character, jumping into dangerous situations without a second thought. When Ishmael finally gets into bed, his unknown companion has yet to arrive. The harpooneer comes in and undresses in the dark, then worships before an idol... all of this alarming the gentle and inexperienced Ishmael greatly. When the other man jumps into bed with him, he cannot help crying out in suprise.

"Giving a sudden grunt of astonishment he began feeling me. Stammering out something, I knew not what, I rolled away from him against the wall."

Like a shy virgin bride, Ishmael does not know how to react. For his part, the harpooneer bears some resemblance to the most beloved heroes of Cassie Edwards' Indian savage stories.

"'Who-e debel you?'--he at last said--'you no speak-e, damme, I kill-e.'"

The confusion is resolved, however, in a comic mode any lover of romps will appreciate, and the reader is delighted by the descriptions of Ishmael and Queequeg's deep friendship, that quickly becomes love. Ishmael's feelings for Queequeg are foreshadowed in classic romantic style, when he cannot tear his eyes away from Queequeg's body while the latter is dressing. This story breaks the taboo of interracial romance that even contemporary romances continues to respect, as well as making an excellent point about true respect for diversity when Ishmael and Queequeg take turns worshipping each other's gods.

Except for the humorous mishaps with the first night sharing a bed, there are no Big Misunderstandings clouding the plot of Moby-Dick. Unlike hundreds of romance protagonists, Ishmael and Queequeg come to a quick comprehension of their feelings, and express them freely to each other.

"He seemed to take to me quite as naturally and unbiddenly as I to him; and when out smoke was over, he pressed his forehead against mine, clasped me round the waist, and said that henceforth we were married... he would gladly die for me, if need should be."

How many romances have we read that would have been vastly improved by such honesty on the part of the lovers?

I would consider this a Desert Isle Keeper, except (SPOILER HERE!) the story does not end with HEA. The villain Ahab, in his monomania to kill the titular whale, sends Queequeg, himself, and the rest of the crew to their deaths. Ahab, incidentally, puts 99% of romance villains to shame; he is nearly well-developed enough to be considered the main character. No cackling, one-dimensional Mr. Evil here - we see into his soul, and understand why he is driven on his wicked quest even as we condemn its effects on our star-crossed lovers. Only Ishmael survives by floating on Queequeg's coffin, in a scene that brought tears to my eyes, recalling as it did the end of Titanic.

Best of all, you don't have to spend a dime to read this fabulous novel. Many sites have the text online. I recommend it to anyone who wants a roaring adventure, a tender romance, and who isn't afraid of 400 irrelevant pages.

--Nicole Guynes

My Pregnant Chad

By Polly Boothe, Time Travel Romance
First in a series, followed by Anyone's Guess

Grade:Undecided
Sensuality:Confused

How many of you out there loved the movie Groundhog Day? It was inspiring, uplifting, romantic with just the right touch of humor. It was enthralling to see Bill Murray's character evolve and discover what's truly important to him. And at the end of it...he gets the girl and you're happy for him!

Here's a book that takes that same premise, but doesn't know where to go with it. The story could practically write itself, but Ms. Boothe doesn't seem to know what to do with her characters or even if there's to be a HEA ending.

Ms. Boothe has introduced a clever concept here - two heroes, each with their own admirable qualities and character flaws. Al Bore is the responsible, upstanding young man...or is he? George Gush is the one your mother always warned you about, but you couldn't resist. Tippie Calvoter is the object of their desire. She's smart, if a little apathetic at times, but knows what she wants...or at least she thinks she does.

The story starts off in the small, backwater town of Chad, Florida. It's Election Day and the two candidates - Gush and Bore -- turn up to the polling station at the same time. Tippie happens to be working at the polling station when they arrive. Ms. Boothe does an admirable job of describing her mixed emotions. You can feel Tippie's anguish as she hands them both their ballot papers. Where the author seems to slip up is in giving the reader some indication of where things are going to go. Now in a time-travel romance, you expect the unexpected, it comes with the territory. But the one feature they all share is that the hero and heroine will at some point connect. You enjoy watching as they overcome their difficulties of customs, language, ideology, etc. What you know will always happen, is that it will involve the hero and heroine. Ms. Boothe seems to have forgotten this (maybe she's drawn Tippie's apathy a little too well!), and left the heroine behind.

Back to the story...

Gush and Bore jostle for the one remaining booth, they slap their ballot papers down and just as they punch the hole at the same time, they are spun into a vortex where time appears to have stood still. Without giving too much away, they exit the booth and find that they're back where they began. Tippie is still there, yearning to discover which one will be her true love. They look down at their ballot papers and discover that neither one has properly punctured the right name. They jump back into the booth, try again, exit and find time still hasn't changed.

You get the idea. On and on it goes. Tippie isn't any closer to finding her hero. Gush and Bore begin to realize that they may never actually find the combination of ballot papers that allows them to move forward.

I feel somewhat cheated when an author leaves a situation like this hanging until the sequel. You know there has to be a HEA ending eventually. It's just that you'd like some indication of who the hero and heroine are. I'm of two minds with the sequel...I don't know if I'll be in the mood to read it. I think I'll ride the fence on this one.

--Misti Fyed

Passion’s Savage Lusting Love

By Louise Lovmore, Reissue of 1982 release, Historical Pirate Romance

Grade:A
Sensuality:Hot (bodice ripping hot!!)

We all remember the first romance novel we ever read. Okay, well, we might not remember the exact book, but for those of you near my age (somewhere over 30), all the titles were like Passion’s Savage Lusting Love. And once I saw the title and the book jacket, I knew this was my first romance novel. It came flooding back to me… my mother catching me with this book, read the page I was on (clothes tearing, woman sobbing, man growling, etc.) and took it directly out to the trash can.

Miranda Hotsbabe, only daughter of the Earl of Ravenswolf, is a spoiled, whining, beautiful 17-year-old. She is the most gorgeous woman in the whole county, with her silver blonde waist length hair, green eyes, full bosom, 18-inch waist and long coltish legs. Her father indulges her in everything, even letting her walk naked on the shore by their country home. This proves to be her undoing.

Jared Lordofall, Earl of Naughtyham, is a loyal Englishman who is posing as a pirate in order to catch the terrible smugglers who are filling England with contraband liquor and lace. As he is patrolling up and down the coast, he spots Miranda. Since she is naked, he assumes she is the whore for the smugglers and is there to guide them into the cove with their contraband. At over 6 feet, with pitch-black hair and blue eyes, he is able to see her from 2 miles out to sea. Furious with himself for his body’s sudden hardness, he dives into the sea and swims to shore to capture this whore who inflames his lust.

So begins a long and tempestuous story of lovers who argue, fight, spit, scream and love. The Big Mis happens time and again. . .always a new one so as not to keep us on the same story line. But I must admit that my favorite part was the bedroom scenes. Jared, always growling, tears numerous chemises and cuts up corsets before he pounds his hardness into our lovely heroine. And our heroine wants the passion’s savage lusting, no sweet words for our lovers. Just grunts, sighs, moans and sobbing.

When I finished re-reading this lost classic, I realized what is missing from today’s romance novels. . .page after page of unintelligible sentences, our heroine stuttering her answers to our overpowering hero, the hero not realizing that the heroine is an idiot and so falling completely in love with her. Ah, 1982 was a good year for music and romance novels. If you remember how much you loved your first romance novel, go back in time and pick up Passion’s Savage Lusting Love. You will never look at romance novels the same way again!

-- Nanette Nickelby

Gone With the Wind

Margaret Mitchell, American Historical Fiction (Civil War)

Grade:Z-
Sensuality:Didn't Care Enough to Notice

Looking for a book with likable characters and a plot you can lose yourself in? Trust me, this one isn't it.

The heroine, Scarlett, was the most spoiled, immature, whiny, and selfish person that ever walked the fictional Earth. Maybe if she hadn't been so wrapped up in herself she'd have noticed that "Ashley, oh Ashley" was married. The book was so full of Scarlett's insufferable whining that when she vowed never to go hungry again, I wished she would so she'd die and just shut up.

As for the plot, I didn't notice what was happening so much since I was so annoyed by the incessant whining and selfishness displayed by Scarlett. If I hadn't been afraid it would put a hole in my wall, this book would have hit it before I got to page 10.

At over a thousand pages, this book is simply not worth the effort it would take to lug it home from the bookstore. I would have given it an F, but I was afraid that would be an insult to the authors whose books have received that grade on this site. To paraphrase Rhett, "Frankly my dear, it wasn't worth a damn."

--I.M. Cross

The Flame and the Flour

Kathleen Baker

Grade:C+
Sensuality:Burning (well, flame is in the title!)

I must say when I picked up this book I felt it had a reasonable premise. The Flame in our novel is Micaela de la Fuera. The flour in this case is our dear hero, Denis Le Torte, a famous baker in gay Paris. Micaela is actually a flame swallower extraordinaire with the Spanish version of Barnum and Bailey circus.

The story starts when Micaela is visiting a very good Gay Friend in Gay Paris. She decides to show her friend, Gayaume, the risks and skills involved in her craft. Well, actually, Gayaume taunted her into it, saying that being Gay in Paris was actually more dangerous than her job. (I had never thought of it that way myself).

So Micaela sets a stout wooden torch on fire. Enter our hero, Denis Le Torte. He smelled the smoke and came over from his pensione next door looking to find out if Gayaume had bought a gas grill or not. When he saw Micaela start to swallow her torch, he threw flour all over it. He conveniently had the flour with him, as he had planned a large torte for his evening's work.

Well, the lust really started from there. Micaela had never been covered head to toe in flour before and her passions nearly burned out of control. Luckily Gayaume lost his cookies before they could consummate said passions in the residue of flame and flour. I also was feeling a leetle nauseous at this point. But I grew to feel that Micaela and Denis were made for each other.

Micaela and Denis meet further to discuss a magnificent cake that he will bake for the circus owner, a dastardly Spaniard named Archie Villiano. Their passions build as they fight off bugs in flour in a bad flour batch, along with poor flame torch manufacture and of course, Archie.

I thought that Archie was a bit obvious but perhaps most readers won't notice the similarities between Archie and the villain Boris from the Bullwinkle cartoons. This seemed a bit more of a stretch than we normally see.

If you don't mind a little reach in plotting (really, how many bakers are carrying flour with them everywhere?) then this is an okay read. The plot twists and turns involving the butcher, baker and candlestick maker seem a little extraneous but perhaps necessary to bring this exciting tale to a conclusion. As I said, with a true Flame and the Flour, how can you go wrong? This is a nice light read when you are looking for a different twist on the concept of circus performer meets baker.

--Susan Brewster

The Umpire's Kiss

By Sylvia Nekbyten, 2000, Contemporary Romance

Grade:A
Sensuality:Sultry and Sizzling - yet sporty!

When gothic romance master Sylvia Nekbyten found that a computer virus had corrupted her word processing program, rendering the letter pair 'va' as 'u', she seriously considered reinstalling the software. To the delight of paranormal readers everywhere, her new masterpiece The Umpire's Kiss, is a triumph! Once started, I had a very hard time putting this one down.

Set in the mythical town of Curveball, Tenn, Nekbyten takes us on a surreal tour of the dark, foreboding world of AAA baseball. Team owner Vanna Tee is a voluptuous, sensual, ex-prostitute virgin with a glass eye for studly young athletes. A straight talking, hands on kind of woman, she has an uncanny knack for scanning the field and picking just the man to invite up to her box. What she doesn't count on is rookie pitcher Buck "Nay Kid" O'Flaylin, the up and coming Irish ex-orphan pitcher who stuns the entire offensive coaching staff and threatens to take sole possession of her mound.

Nay Kid, who got his nickname by teaching middle English to underprivileged youth, is a dark, powerful and threatening figure both on and off the field. Tee senses trouble when he mysteriously demands a clause in his contract that he only play night games. In an effort to uncover the secret she feels he must be hiding, she hires a ruggedly handsome home plate ump, Jack "Fastballs" Pearson. It's then that the sexual tension that grips the reader for the rest of the novel takes off.

Fastballs is a former OBGYN turned private investigator who spends his summer evenings behind the plate. Quickly, he uncovers circumstantial evidence that Nay Kid is involved in a sinister plot that somehow involves superglue, flannel pajamas and a rhesus monkey. Tee finds her emotions spiraling out of control and slowly becomes convinced that she has to choose between Buck and Balls, as we see in this excerpt:

"But that doesn't make sense, Jack. Why the monkey?"

...er, well, not quite that excerpt. Here we go:

The two men stood on opposite sides of the room like Scylla and Charybdis. Vanna looked from one to the other from behind her desk. Why is it that whenever these guys are near me it smells like a locker room? she thought, chewing on her lip. At least for the time being, she'd stopped their incessant arguing. She listened as Jack turned back to address her.

"Anyway, Ms Tee, it's obvious that the spitball problem is only getting worse. And Buck, here, is going to get your team in a heap o'trouble if he keeps it up. If I were you, I'd nullify his contract and send him packing back to the thousand-year-old pack of sensual, seductive undead that he hangs around with. But that's a decision you'll have to make for yourself."

Nay Kid folded his arms, seeming suddenly more imposing than even his seven and a half foot frame should rightly seem.. Obviously agitated, he narrowed his gaze at the smaller umpire, threateningly flashing inch long teeth.

Vanna could feel her heart leap with lust as she thought of how wonderful it would feel to have those teeth embedded in her pulsating corotid artery. Still, half of her heart belonged to Jack, that she knew. The question was, left ventricle or right?

It's not hard to imagine why this reader sat transfixed, turning page after page and drinking in every last word. Umpire's Kiss is a must read for those who can't choose between reruns of Dark Shadows or ESPN2. Thankfully, with such a gripping tale, one doesn't have to!

-- Steve C

Savaged by Love

By Karyn Lockjaw, 2000, Paranormal Romance

Grade:A+
Sensuality:XXX-rated--Scalding with loads of raging passion

I’m absolutely sick of romances where the focus is on the relationship between the hero and heroine. Like I care. I want characters who have scarcely exchanged business cards before they’re boinking each other mindless in bed. I’m willing to allow for a lot of personality flaws in the characters, logic gaps in the plot, and dangling participles as long as there’re lots and lots of those specific engorged body parts and animal lust. Sex, sex and more sex - that’s what I want, and that’s what Savaged by Love delivers.

Spared having to slog through pages and pages of indecision, debate, and angst over whether the characters are right for each other, a reader can really concentrate on the sex scenes. (Since they really really really hate each other, you can’t call them love scenes.) After I’d read only the first couple of chapters, I copped a grope on my Significant Other. This book is a permanent addition to his keeper shelf!

From the vivid opening scene, Savaged by Love teems with hostility and passion.

“I really really really hate you, Jared Hunkley!” snarled Samantha Sunkisst, her eyes blazing emerald fire. “I never want to see you again!” The hurricane-strength wind plastered her silk dress tight against her perfect figure and outlined each and every pucker of her impudent nipples.

“Well, that’s just fine with me!” retorted Jared, his jaw clenched and nostrils flaring. “It’s only because of your rich Daddy’s money that anyone pretends to like you.” As he imagined swirling her platinum-hued tresses over his washboard abs, the blood pooled in his crotch.

“You beast!” sobbed Samantha, mentally assessing the impressive bulge behind his zipper.

Against a backdrop of various exotic locales, the hero and heroine play out their mutual desire. They really really really hate each other but are helpless to resist their hormonal affinity.

Samantha Sunkisst is a famous fashion model, concert pianist, and investment banker. Her multi-billionaire father has given her everything she’s ever wanted and more, but she’s remained delightfully unspoiled and unaware of her stunning beauty. Her legendary generosity in devoting her court-ordered hours of community service at a slum-area orphanage is frequently featured in supermarket tabloids.

At a haute couture fashion shoot on a remote tropical island, she meets Jared Hunkley, the fabulously wealthy land developer and international security specialist, whose physique is “like satiny wood lovingly smoothed by hours and hours of meticulous hand-sanding with ultra-fine sandpaper.” Jared’s impoverished childhood as the only child of a widowed convenience store night-shift clerk has left him distrustful of those raised in a privileged environment.

They throw sparks off one another from their memorable first meeting.

“You’re loathsome. I really really really hate you.”

“Likewise.”

It’s hard to imagine how antipathy can ever turn to love, but, of course, romance is inevitable between the two. How long will it be before Jared realizes that having an investment banker around could be good for the land developing business? And that those dumb blonde jokes are reality-based so don’t fight it? How long before Samantha decides that Jared’s gorgeous physique and hefty bank balance more than compensate for any personality defects? Or that one can never be too thin or too rich?

With Savaged by Love, Ms. Lockjaw has made a major shift in direction from her highly successful career penning inspirational romances. When asked about the drastic change, this talented author explained, “Jared Hunkley swept me away, and I just had to tell his story. Besides, there’s more money in this kind of writing.”

My Significant Other and I thank her. You and yours will, too.

-- Annie Maus

The Sister and the Slinger

By Cleopatra Cranberry, 2000, Paranormal Romance

Grade:A++++++++
Sensuality:Hotty hotty hot hot!

Can a former nun and a wild, hot-to-trot gunslinger find true love? Cleopatra Cranberry sets out to prove that they can. Readers familiar with Cranberry's best-selling Craggymoor trilogy, which tells the story of identical triplet witch sisters who devote their lives to the preservation of unicorns, might be disappointed by the lack of mythological creatures in Sister. However, those who stick with the novel to the end will find themselves delighted by a sexy, touching and long romp through a Wild West that comes alive through breathtakingly accurate research.

Mercedes de Clavencourt has lived much of her adult life as Sister Mercedes, nun at a strict convent in Ireland. She leaves the order, however, after learning that the Mother Superior has been embezzling money from the Orphans of Africa Fund to pay off her extensive gambling debts. Sickened by her fellow nun's duplicity, Mercedes turns her back on her former life of devotion - and her vow of chastity. I don't want to give too much away, but I will say that the 39-year old virgin leaves Ireland forever and travels to the Montana Territory she's read about in dime novels.

Colton Firestick is a half-Comanche Montana gunslinger and former pirate who has devoted his life to the apprehension of criminal types. He also owns and operates the largest ranch in North America. Twenty heart-stopping pages (all of Chapter 7, in fact) are devoted to describing Colton's manly charms - his rough, booming voice, hands big enough to span Mercedes' hips, his brawny physique - even the sexy eyepatch he wears to cover the eye he lost in a freak sheep herding accident.

Colton is certain his missing eye has made it impossible for any decent woman to love him, so he comforts himself in the arms of the thousands of prostitutes, dancehall girls and lonely widows who roam the prairies - until he meets Mercedes, that is. (Sorry for the spoiler!) Mercedes' and Colton's first meeting is full of hilarity. She mishears him and thinks he name is "Carton," and for the rest of the book she wonders why his mother named him after a box. Colton, meanwhile, shows off his skill with a pistol by shooting the buttons off of Mercedes' gown. Needless to say, he leaves her naked body quivering with desire. The couple's other exchanges, like the one below, are just as delightful:

"I'm sweatin' worser than a whore in church," Colton growled as he wiped his massive brow with one manly hand.

"You….shouldn't use…..such foul language!" Mercedes screeched indignantly as she tossed her fiery floor-length magenta curls.

Colton pulled Mercedes toward him.

"You're makin' me rise faster than bread dough in August," he rasped, gazing at her through his good eye with barely concealed lust.

"Carton…." Mercedes wheezed passionately, "not….in front of…..the cattle!"

I don't want to give too much of a spoiler, but all 697 pages of this book fly by with scenes such as this one.

The sexiest love scene, without giving too much away, would have to be Chapters 13-27, which detail the creative ways Colton and Mercedes manage to make love even as he drives a stagecoach full of prisoners to Las Vegas Territory. Dangerous? Probably. Sexy? Most definitely! In fact, I had to buy a new sofa after reading this book - I became so overheated during Chapter 14 that I actually scorched the upholstery.

Go out and buy this book today! I recommend at least three copies: one for the nightstand, one to keep in the car to read at long stoplights, and one in a safe deposit box in case something happens to the other two.

If I had to pick one book to read for the rest of my life, it would be The Sister and the Slinger. The long, historically accurate description of Colton's tight, Levi's-clad butt should be taught in high school history classes. I loved this book so much that I would marry it. When I have children, this book will be named their legal guardian.

-- J.M.E.

Underdog: Polly's Peril

By Patricia D. Doggue, Reissue of 1969 release, Series Romance (Suspense)
First in the Trilogy, followed by Overcat's Revenge and Shoe Shineboy's Shining Moment

Grade:A-
Sensuality:Dogs in Heat

For all you fans of anthropomorphic fiction who have been howling for real romance, your time has finally come! After reading this book, you'll never be able to look at a beagle the same way again.

Ms. Doggue presents a cast of finely drawn characters, each with depths never before explored in series romance. She crafts her tails with suspense, drama and the right amount of puppy love. While those looking for more graphic descriptions of the physical bond between the hero and heroine may be disappointed, I found the searing tension between the two to be heart worming.

Underdog/Shoeshine Boy is everything a hero should be...and less. He's neither Alpha nor Beta, but rather more towards the end of the Greek alphabet - I'd venture to say that he's probably the first "Omega" hero of romance. I don't know about you, but I'm growing weary of heroes who are either too good to be true (and know it) or so tortured that no amount of therapy could possibly wrench them from their self-absorbed, emotional coma. Underdog/Shoeshine Boy uses his weaknesses to his advantage. Even after his transformation from nondescript foot-care consultant to avenging hero, he retains the part of his personality that I find so endearing ... his mild mannered obedience. Some may find the use of artificial stimulants in this transformation abhorrent. But for me, it adds a bittersweet edge to his meekly tortured personality.

"Sweet" Polly Purebred, a successful TV reporter and the heroine of this and following instalments, holds all the alluring attributes every romance reader dreams about - she's kind, caring and has a healthy coat. While those readers with hearts galvanized with sarcasm may categorize her has TSTL, I prefer to look at her continual cries for help as the foundation of her needy spirit. It's so touching that Shoeshine Boy is the only one who can hear her yelping. How many women out there wouldn't kill for that ability?

Underdog: Polly's Peril goes beyond the simple scenario of dog sniffs dog by introducing a truly menacing character - Overcat - to provide the right level of tension and suspense. However, if there were one bone I'd have to pick with Ms. Doggue's use of anthropomorphism, it's that I didn't quite find Overcat's obsession with Polly Purebred convincing. Egotistical, tyrannical, haughty...yes, I can see these traits in any cat, but they're rarely concerned with anything unless it's a potential source of food.

The action is fast-paced and never strays from the relationship between Underdog and Polly. After reading this book, I defy anyone to not have a tear in their eye the next time they see two dogs "at it" in the park.

--Germaine Sheppard

LLB: Voting for the best of this year's parodies was indeed difficult. My favorite parts of Pat Peeve's parody included:

She managed to skewer two themes that show up in my reviews in that first and third quote, and the second is just so clever I LOL.


Nicole's Moby Dick parody was out-and-out hilarious and incredibly inventive. When she takes the actual text and turns it all homo-erotic, I nearly peed in my pants. The Cassie Edwards inference was simply icing on the cake.


The parody by Misti Fyed was timely and smart as well. The description of Tipper Calvoter as a parody on the voting public was dead-on: "Tippie Calvoter is the object of their desire. She's smart, if a little apathetic at times, but knows what she wants...or at least she thinks she does."

The Ground Hog Day premise that occurs when the two men vote and can't escape the loop of time was brilliant, as was the not-so-subtle dig at how tortuous this election was because of all the interference: "Gush and Bore begin to realize that they may never actually find the combination of ballot papers that allows them to move forward. . ."


Nanette Nickleby's parody was so funny; my favorite section was:

"When I finished re-reading this lost classic, I realized what is missing from today’s romance novels. . .page after page of unintelligible sentences, our heroine stuttering her answers to our overpowering hero, the hero not realizing that the heroine is an idiot and so falling completely in love with her. Ah, 1982 was a good year for music and romance novels."
I especially love that last line!


I.M. Cross' parody of GWTW captured the spirit of the contest. Favorite lines? "The book was so full of Scarlett's insufferable whining that when she vowed never to go hungry again, I wished she would so she'd die and just shut up." and "I would have given it an F, but I was afraid that would be an insult to the authors whose books have received that grade on this site. To paraphrase Rhett, 'Frankly my dear, it wasn't worth a damn'."


Susan Brewster's The Flame and the Baker parody was inventive - I loved the convenient coincidence of "When he saw Micaela start to swallow her torch, he threw flour all over it. He conveniently had the flour with him, as he had planned a large torte for his evening's work." And the outlandishness of many a romance novel premise is neatly skewered with: "The plot twists and turns involving the butcher, baker and candlestick maker seem a little extraneous but perhaps necessary to bring this exciting tale to a conclusion. As I said, with a true Flame and the Flour, how can you go wrong? This is a nice light read when you are looking for a different twist on the concept of circus performer meets baker."


Steve C's The Umpire's Kiss was truly inspired. I loved the computer virus and how it affected the text. I loved the description of the heroine: "Team owner Vanna Tee is a voluptuous, sensual, ex-prostitute virgin with a glass eye for studly young athletes. A straight talking, hands on kind of woman, she has an uncanny knack for scanning the field and picking just the man to invite up to her box." And who could forget the hero, described thusly: "rookie pitcher Buck "Nay Kid" O'Flaylin, the up and coming Irish ex-orphan pitcher who stuns the entire offensive coaching staff and threatens to take sole possession of her mound."?


Annie Maus' Savaged by Love really proves what we've been saying all along - we really do read romances for the love scenes! She really proves it w/this section:
"Spared having to slog through pages and pages of indecision, debate, and angst over whether the characters are right for each other, a reader can really concentrate on the sex scenes. (Since they really really really hate each other, you can’t call them love scenes.) After I’d read only the first couple of chapters, I copped a grope on my Significant Other. This book is a permanent addition to his keeper shelf!"

The quotation from the brilliant opening scene is magnificent; who could improve on such quality of writing?

"From the vivid opening scene, Savaged by Love teems with hostility and passion.

“I really really really hate you, Jared Hunkley!” snarled Samantha Sunkisst, her eyes blazing emerald fire. “I never want to see you again!” The hurricane-strength wind plastered her silk dress tight against her perfect figure and outlined each and every pucker of her impudent nipples.

“Well, that’s just fine with me!” retorted Jared, his jaw clenched and nostrils flaring. “It’s only because of your rich Daddy’s money that anyone pretends to like you.” As he imagined swirling her platinum-hued tresses over his washboard abs, the blood pooled in his crotch.

“You beast!” sobbed Samantha, mentally assessing the impressive bulge behind his zipper. "




I fell in love with the hero in J.M.E.'s review of The Sister and the Slinger when I read about the "sexy eyepatch he wears to cover the eye he lost in a freak sheep herding accident." I knew there would be a HEA when I read this in the review: "She mishears him and thinks he name is 'Carton,' and for the rest of the book she wonders why his mother named him after a box. Colton, meanwhile, shows off his skill with a pistol by shooting the buttons off of Mercedes' gown."


Germaine Sheppard's review of Polly's Peril captured my funny bone when she wrote: "She crafts her tails with suspense, drama and the right amount of puppy love. While those looking for more graphic descriptions of the physical bond between the hero and heroine may be disappointed, I found the searing tension between the two to be heart worming." Her description of the new "Omega" hero was brilliant - don't we all secretly yearn for "mild mannered obedience?" The final line to the review created quite a vivid mental picture: "After reading this book, I defy anyone to not have a tear in their eye the next time they see two dogs 'at it' in the park."


In the end, I cast my vote for Steve C's The Umpire's Kiss, which came in a very, very close second place. Maybe it's because I loved Bull Durham so much? Which one did you vote for? Share your own thoughts on this year's contest and its entries by posting to our Potpourri Message Board.

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