Bitchin' Blog Posts
Title: Passion’s Bold Fire
Author: Rosalyn Alsobrook
Publication Info: Kensington/Zebra 1993
Genre: Historical: American
>RedHeadedGirl is back, this time with a review of a romance from so far back, and so far gone in the WTF department, she calls it “Love’s Passion’s Flaming Bag of Poo.” It was an epic adventure. In pain.
Most of the time, reviews are written after you have finished the book. I admit for Season of the SunI started it before I even got the book delivered, but I’d read it so many times before, I could do that, and the hook wasn’t really that relevant to the specific book anyway.
This is not one of those reviews.
It’s really tempting to do this review just as transcripts of IMs and emails I sent while slogging through this bag of poo. But that wouldn’t really cover all the shitasticness of this book.
The day after I started reading this book, I sent Sarah this email:
“Oh my god, Sarah. Oh my god.
I may have a bone fide “F” grade, old school 1992 romance. It certainly falls into “I read this shit so you don’t have to.” I think I’ve sprained my eyes from rolling them so hard. I’m on chapter 2.
OH MY GOD. “
Then later I declared I was giving this book a new title: Love’s Passion’s Flaming Bag of Poo.
It’s so bad, you guys. I could only read 20 pages at a time.
I can’t really say it had promise, but it involves Not The Usual Setting: Pennsylvania Mining town, 1876, and the Molly Maguires are in full Maguire. But the writing. The names. The writing. THE TOTAL AND UTTER LACK OF RESEARCH. THE TOTAL AND UTTER BULLSHIT THAT THIS BOOK IS FULL OF. I’ve read better fan fiction. DAN BROWN IS A BETTER WRITER. This is exactly the low blow you think it is.
An example of the writing: not a literal example (There will be a dissection of a scene that will illustrate EVERY SINGLE PROBLEM THIS BOOK HAS SAVE ONE) (WELL, TWO: The second is that someone published this schlock to begin with). “’I am angry!’ he said, angrily. Obviously, he was angry.” Alsobrook has never heard of “show, don’t tell.” So she tells. And then she shows what she told. And then she tells us what she just showed us.
It’s going to be a review full of caps. More than usual. I’d suggest you make a drinking game of it, but like the drinking game of “how many times does Redheadedgirl roll her eyes” or the drinking game of “take a sip (for the love of god, not a shot!) every time the word “clearly” or “obviously” is used” you might actually die. So I am not suggesting that. I take no responsibility nor accept any liability should you decide to play any drinking games with this book or this review.
First, we meet our heroine, who, in a departure from my preferred heroines, is NOT a redhead. She has glorious brown hair, and gorgeous brown eyes. One potential for a totally not recommended drinking game is to take a shot everytime someone says something about a “brown-eyed beauty.” But you’d be pretty shitfaced pretty quick. Anyway, her name is Karissa Caine. (Yes. Karissa. Yeah, I’m sure that was a totally common name in the upper echelons of society in 1876.) (I looked it up. Karissa, with that spelling, doesn’t really show up until the mid 1960s, and peaks in popularity in 1992.) Karissa is the daughter of a Pennsylvania mining tycoon. As the book opens, Karissa’s father is dying from brain cancer. The author makes specific reference to the mass growing in his skull.
Okay, I admit, I am no real doctor. However, I do have Wikipedia and my god-given good sense (and YEARS of watching ER, MASH, and Greys Anatomy. I’m practically an intern, yo). And I know that x-rays were just barely starting to be used as a diagnostic tool in the 1890s, but even SO, that’s not going to help diagnose a brain tumor. So. HOW DO THEY KNOW THERE’S A BRAIN TUMOR? They can’t. This isn’t even lack of research, this is lack of using your god-given common sense. This Is Beyond Potato Rage.
Karissa gets a visit from a very pretty, redheaded Irish woman who works in a tavern in one of the mining towns, and who is very pregnant. This woman (“Jacqueline, but my friends call me Jacque”) (alf;a’o;fj’aflkjsd;flh) tells Karissa that she overheard some men planning to murder Karissa’s father because of the crappy things that are being done to the mineworkers. Of course, the warning comes too late and Karissa’s father is shot in their backyard as Jacque is talking. Jacque gives Karissa four men’s names—just their given names, of course—as the people planning the murder.
Karissa has her servants hustle Jacque off and at the reading of the will, her father has left a tidy sum to Jacque (who he’d been seeing (read, fucking)) for the past several years (it’s unclear if he knew that she was pregnant) and pretty much everything else, including control of the mining operations to Karissa, and a fat trust fund for Karissa’s brother (and nothing to his bratty wife, who wants to live in a style to which she would like to become accustomed, which the trust fund is not fat enough to do).
Does Karissa settle down and run the mining business? OF COURSE NOT. She puts everything on hold, and goes to the mining town Jacque worked in to solve her father’s murder. She decides this is the BEST IDEA EVER because the Molly Maguires can smell a private investigator at 20 paces, and they would NEVER suspect a woman. She’s going to be Catherine Sobey, a much more period-appropriate name. She then comes up with a bunch of faked evidence that she is who she says she is (she’s going to use her mother’s maiden name, so there’s a bible with the maiden name embossed in gilt on the cover, a locket, letters she “rubbed out the dates” on… seriously, going to all this trouble to be someone else pre-Google looks suspicious on its face). She also hires her own private investigator so she’d have some kind of back up, which is possibly the least stupid thing she does in the entire book.
After we hear about what a PITA it is to get an investigator into the Molly Maguires, who do we meet but Shawn. (Not Sean. Shawn. Never mind that that name peaked in popularity in the mid 1970s and doesn’t even show up in the Most Popular Baby Name Lists until around 1940. But his name is Shawn.) (af’pihef’;ma’dsfoja). Shawn is a, yes, private investigator who has been hired by another mine owner to prove that the Maguiring the Molly Maguires Maguire in is really murder and general domestic terrorism. He can get away with it because he’s Irish on his mother’s side, and can fake a Fresh Off the Boat accent really easily. Also, he is handsome. And also, as our cue that he is not a douchebag, he bathes everyday, unlike all the other schlubs in this mining town.
Of course, to complicate things, “Shawn” was one of the names that Jacque gave Karissa.
EVEN THOUGH SHAWN AND KARISSA ARE NOT PERIOD APPROPRIATE NAMES MY GOD THIS ISN’T EVEN HARD
Karissa gets herself a job working as barmaid in the same tavern where Jacque overheard the whole murder conspiracy thing going on. Because she is a gently-bred girl with an educated accent, she is totally and utterly surprised that men would dare manhandle her. She also has some problems with miners following her home from the tavern and “pushing their affections” (read: attempting rape) on her. So Shawn puts out the word that she is “his woman” and everyone else should back the fuck off. (She, both thrilled at this, disgusted by it, and annoyed by it, makes him fake a proposal, ring and all- she may be his fake woman, but by god, she will do so RESEPCTABLY.) People listen to Shawn because he’s a hottie and a powerful looking man and oh, yeah, he let people think that he’s in the mines because he’s on the run from the law- he supposedly killed his wife and her lover in a jealous rage. So no one wants to mess with him.
Karissa discovers this because her PI told her, and she spends about a hundred pages going “How on earth can I be attracted to someone so murderous! I can’t possibly break things off with him because he might kill me! BUT HE’S SO HOT OMG”
Karissa finds herself unable to extract any information about, well, anything from anyone because she’s really bad at extracting information. (“So you don’t like the conditions in the mines. Is that why you joined the Molly Maguires?”) For WEEKS she works in the tavern, makes out with Shawn (until he cops a feel and then she sends him away), asks awkward questions and NOT MUCH HAPPENS.
Shawn, of course, tells his employer that a) he had nothing to do with any murders and doesn’t think the actual Maguires have anything to do with it, either, and b) it’s possible that the Maguires have a point- things are really crappy down in the mines (though their methods could use some work). His employer is not real thrilled with either of these reports, but has more important questions: What the hell is Shawn doing with Karissa Caine, and why is she wearing such shitty clothes?
Then Shawn and Karissa FINALLY sit down and have a heart-to-heart where they admit their real names and who they are to each other, and FOUR HUNDRED PAGES IN FINALLY GET BUSY. Four hundred pages. I shit you not. What the hell is the point of putting up with this crap if there’s no sex?
And then the plot just goes completely off the rails. Karissa’s brother, John, is, of course, the one who orchestrated the whole murder thing. He hired the actual murderers to go to the mining town, discuss the whole plot in front of people, use fake names in the process, and then go kill his father. Why does he do this? He needs the money so that his spoiled little wife doesn’t leave him.
So Shawn’s employer is a friend of the Caine family, and sees John and tells him that he just saw Karissa in the mining town, and she’s fine, because obviously John and Karissa are in on the whole thing together. Obviously. And John, who thought she was at a health spa or something says “….of course she is. I knew that.” John then goes to Karissa’s house in Pittsburgh, beats the shit out of her housekeeper to find out exactly what Karissa’s been up to, and, having completely lost his mind, storms up to the mining town to go kill her.
Karissa’s butler finds the housekeeper, and ALSO hustles up to the mining town to save Karissa’s ass. There’s a bunch of dancing around with the butler and John asking where she is, and the butler finding out about Shawn and deciding that this guy he’s never heard of must be someone who can also help save Karissa’s ass, just as a plot development to get everyone in the same room.
Whatever. Shawn is so distracted by Karissa being in danger that he doesn’t notice that John is in his room and has his (Shawn’s) gun. John makes Shawn write Karissa a note saying, “please come” (heh), while the Butler goes to get Karissa and her little derringer in her handbag. Because Karissa is a total idiot, it doesn’t occur to her to, I don’t know, MAKE SURE HER LITTLE DERRINGER IS IN HER POCKET OR AT LEAST ACCESSIBLE BEFORE GOING INTO A ROOM WITH A CRAZY ARMED MAN. Nor does it occur to her that a handbag is not going to stop bullets and to shoot someone THROUGH THE BAG.
So there’s yelling, there’s “I’m going to kill ALL OF YOU” and finally, FINALLY Karissa shoots John and after a lot of wailing about how she murdered her brother, she and Shawn get married, make babies, make everything in the mines all hunky-dory and OSHA-approved and FINALLY this pile of crap is over with.
Before we get into the writing and how bad it is, I’m going to give a little lesson in the law. I know that there’s a number of writers here, and this is a fact that gets a lot of people tripped up. Consider it a gift, from me to you.
Homicide and Murder are two different, but related, things. Homicide is the killing of another human being. Murder is the unlawful killing of another human being. There are justifications for homicide, the most well known being self-defense. In the case of Karissa and her brother waving the gun around, she did commit homicide, but it was not unlawful. Self-defense is a justification for homicide, ergo, there was no murder. There will not be a quiz.
I’m glad we could have this talk.
Okay. In this scene we are going to dissect (and I fully admit I am doing this because pain shared is lessened, or at least shared), Karissa has been working in the tavern and this guy, who is not a miner (too well dressed, educated accent), has been hitting on her. She is repulsed by him. Shawn normally walks her home after the tavern closes at midnight, but they had been fighting about something unimportant and she has declared she can walk home by herself.
First Karissa holds up her lantern to see if anyone is lurking around. It is clear from this bit and other bits in the book that the author has no idea how a lantern really works. She seems to think that they are like flashlights and could illuminate a wide area or at a distance. This is not true.
Karissa has a derringer pistol that she keeps in her skirt pocket. There is no indication that she’s ever shot a gun in her life (before she shoots her brother, and she does that with her eyes squeezed closed), but we’ll go with it. The creepy man from the tavern shows up unexpectedly and says he will walk her home. She says no, thank you, she prefers to walk alone.
“Ah, but an attractive woman like you should not be out here alone at night,” he said, in a clear attempt to be charming. “Aren’t you afraid of what might happen to you?”
“No. For you see, I am armed,” she said, wanting him to know she had a means of protecting herself. She’d had enough abusive treatment from the men of Black Wall.
The book of full of this. We don’t need to be told what Karissa’s motivations were for saying “For you see I am armed.” It’s pretty obvious from context. Also Alsobrook has never met a participial phrase she doesn’t like.
Creepy Guy insists on taking her home, with a firm grip on her arm. She’s getting more and more freaked out, and he’s letting his eyes roam over the curves hidden by her dress (…that sentence doesn’t even make any fucking sense) and she finally pulls the gun. He takes it away from her, she demands it back (“so angry she literally shook”) and he does give it back to her, after removing the bullets.
“Angrily she repocketed the pistol, aware it would be of little help to her now.”
Someone has never heard of pistol-whipping, I guess.
He then tells her that she will get the bullets back after she allows him to walk her home. Then he tells her that he will leave her alone after she allows him to walk her home and calls him by his given name. THEN, when she does, he says that he will go away after she has allowed him to “sample the sweetness of her lips at least once.” (ew.)
This is classic predatory behavior. Make a demand, and once that demand has been met, continue to make more, relying on the social conditioning of women not to unequivocally say no, so as not to seem like a frigid bitch. And it’s possible that this scene wouldn’t have pissed me off so much if it had been written better, because it does give a clear demonstration of how this works. I do not, however, think Alsobrook was actually doing that- she doesn’t seem to have any interest in showing why this is dangerous, just that it is. (If you haven’t read it, I highly recommend Gavin de Becker’s The Gift of Fear. He talks about ways predators use this conditioning against their victims, and how to recognize it, and how to deal with it. Good stuff.)
But then Shawn shows up. And he’s pissed. He and Creepy Guy get into a posturing contest. Karissa has been told about the whole “killing his wife” thing, so she doesn’t want to make him angry. Shawn makes a move towards the pistol HE keeps in his coat pocket.
Karissa’s eyes widened. [Note: lots of eyes widen in this book. Once, eyes even widen in Irish wonder. I am not making this up.] She realized he was getting ready to pull out the pistol he always carried and wondered if he planned to shoot them both.
So she decides to try and defuse the situation, but not by telling them both to fuck off, or even to decide that the devil she knows (Shawn) is better than the devil doesn’t (Creepy Guy). Instead she tries to calm them both down by being a fence-straddling idiot.
Just to set this passage up: Shawn has pointed out that she wears a ring her gave her- that makes Karissa his (well…). Creepy Guy says a ring is easily removed (true). Karissa says the ring is too small and can’t be pulled off (also true). Creepy Guy smirks that OBVIOUSLY that means Karissa doesn’t love Shawn. She says no, that isn’t at all what she meant.
“Then you do love him?” Joseph asked, as if unable to believe such a thing. “That barbarian?”
“I didn’t say that either,” she interjected, not wanting Shawn to think that she might actually care that deeply…
“Then which is it?” Joseph pressed; obviously [drink!] thinking her answer would be not.
Karissa looked at Shawn, whose gaze remained dangerously grim, then lifted her chin proudly. “How I feel about Shawn McCowan is my business and no one else’s.” That seemed a safe enough answer.
“And it is especially no business of yours.” Shawn put it. His calm tone belied the fury still smoldering in his eyes.
“Ah, but I have made it my business.” Joseph put in, clearly [drink!] not impressed with Shawn’s angry presence.
“Please, Joseph,” Karissa pleaded. Obviously [drink!] the man had no idea how dangerous Shawn really was, probably because he was from out of town.
Now imagine 478 pages of schlock written like that. Do you see what I put up with for you guys? Hillarable, I love. WTFtastic, I can take. Stupid characters, I will mock, but forgive. But don’t do all that to me with bad writing. This was PAINFUL. I rolled my eyes at least once a page. I once smashed my forehead on the book WHILE RIDING THE SUBWAY (people looked at me like I was crazy. Which… yeah, okay). I threw it across the room many times.
Finally, here is what it says in the author’s blurb on the back cover: “Rosalyn Alsobrook…attended Kilgore College where she was features editor for the college newspaper. She enjoys doing intricate research for the authentic details she includes in her historical romances…”
I’m just gonna leave that right there.