Book Review

Book Rant: Iris Johansen’s The Bronzed Hawk

Contining the theme of Book Rants, books that really, REALLY pissed a reader off, I bring you Leslie, who picked up a re-issue of a book originally published in the 80s, and found it to be jaw-dropping horrible angry-making. Sometimes it’s the nonsensical plots, and other times, it’s sexism, racism, stereotypes, and complete asshattery. When a romance lets a reader down, the result can be epic.

Book: The Bronzed Hawk by Iris Johansen
Originally published: 1983, Bantam Loveswept
Reprint edition: 2011, Bantam Loveswept

And now: here’s Leslie. Grab a drink and settle in, y’all.

Iris Johansen wrote the second historical romance novel I ever read – The Magnificent Rogue [Goodreads | Amazon | BN | Sony | Kobo | All Romance eBooks]. And I freaking love that book. Love that book, like, its permanent home is on my nightstand.

Other than my Kindle free downloads, my other favorite place to find books is browsing the library shelves. And when I saw what I figured was a reissued contemporary romance by Johansen, I WAS SO EXCITED! Something just clicked (because other than her historicals, I’ve not read any other genre by her). I saved that book, waiting for the  * perfect * time to read it.

Damn. Dammit. Damn.

I was wrong.

A shitty day got a lot shittier by the time I finished.


The Bronzed Hawk This book is bad. It is bad on so many, so very many levels.
Here are some highlights of the low lights:

  •        Hot air balloons
  •        Blatant racism
  •        Child prodigies
  •        Banditos
  •        An aqua blue shirt paired with black suede pants
  •        Malaria
  •        Not knowing how to swim.

How could all these features possible fit together? After finishing, I myself am still asking this question. But perhaps if I give you the lay of the land some connecting themes will reveal themselves . . .

Of course the story starts with an uppity young woman hell-bent on making her professional stamp on the world. By twenty-three Kelly McKenna is already a well-known photojournalist (never mind how truly difficult of a field that is to break into (I know because I’ve been living with a professional photographer for ten years)) and she’s going to scoop the true story behind the inventor/child prodigy, Nick O’Brien. Using the sexual know-how of all petite, doe eyed blondes out there (I’m assuming as I’m as swarthy as she is faeryesque) she weasels her way into his office armed with photos to blackmail him, and is met by a tall man with a chiseled torso and towel.
Right. In his high rise office. He had been doing “yoga exercises,” which, considering this book was first published in 1983, is kinda cool. She’s off guard immediately by the chemistry between and he invites her to sit and plead her case for why he should allow her exclusive access to his story. But he doesn’t have any real furniture. They sit on pillows on the floor. Why? Because as O’Brien puts it, “It’s a little like going back to the womb.” That’s right. The WOMB. Sitting on the floor is like being a fetus in the WOMB.

And yet she stays.

Through some bantering the most important of plot devices emerges her for Johansen: no matter the circumstance, everything that Nick does from here on out is motivated by innate jealousy of Kelly (aka Goldilocks, not demeaning at all) getting with some other man. He must have her.

And to save her from the clutches of her evil editor, he invites her to take a hot air balloon ride. But of course they must leave immediately.

They fly from San Francisco to Brownsville, Texas where they pick up the balloon. He’s never actually piloted one, let alone one that is debuting a new type of fuel (because he is a prodigy, inventor, playboy AND daredevil), and off they go – TO ACAPULCO. Of course!

Based on my sketchy internet research, they would have to travel a distance of 850 miles in a hot air balloon. Which begs the question, how fast do hot air balloons travel? This is important because Kelly only packed an extra shirt, jacket and film for her camera. And he packed two sandwiches and some coffee. That’s it! So my even sketchier research told me that hot air balloons average 30ish miles per hour (and other sites said that they go as fast as an air current goes, which begs the next question, is there an air current that moves southwest from the Gulf of Mexico, over the country to the Pacific Ocean?

I don’t know the answer to that one – too many words to type into Google.

But I do know simple math. 850 miles divided by 30ish equals 28.333333. That is well over a day spent in a tiny basket hanging from a balloon with a hot yoga womb man and upstart photojournalist with two sandwiches to share.

Of course, you already knew, they don’t make it that long.

Nope. While they are busy grinding on each other, unbuttoning clothes, my favorite romance novelism – exploring eachothers’ mouths – that new type of fuel doesn’t prove so safe – the balloon turns into a giant ball of fire in the sky somewhere over Mexico and they must jump to safety. So he straps on a parachute – after buttoning his shirt REALLY!?! – , she connects herself to him with a “mountaineering snap link” aka a carabiner, wraps her legs around him in a nonsexy way and they jump. But before the free fall she says, “I’m not afraid. I’m just ruing the day I decided to blackmail Superman. I don’t think I’m cut out for flying without wings.”  Because if that was you with a giant fire ball overhead, your belt clipped to a parachute operated by a man who keeps demeaning you by calling you “Goldiocks” and “Little Girl,” you’d really be voicing how much you rued that day. Right.

You’d probably be screaming at what a dangerous asshole he is or screaming because you just peed your pants. Damn that Superman!

Yes, of course they survive, and that nylon parachute does not provide much warmth in the cold desert Mexican night. To pitch in she wants to collect firewood, he says no at first then capitulates when he detects “the signs of women’s lib surfacing.”

Iris – WTF?  Yes, the romance genre thrives on gender roles and playing with those lines, but to have such a sexist hero? Was it because this was written in 1983? Was it so different then? Inexcusable to have such a condescending hero. Shame.

Yet, of course, I kept reading.

They survive the night, huddled together to keep warm. They awake to find a tribe of banditos – ALL WEARING SOMBREROS – holding them at gun point. Because that is totally what I think of when I think Bandido. Yes, I suppose the Three Amigos (1986) supports this stereotype, but these days when I think of “bandido” I think more of a drug cartel member or a Zapatista with a ski-mask. Maybe I’m just a product of an overly politically correct upbringing. There is an argument to be made for the shade providing properties of a sombrero, especially when you are an outlaw living off the grid in the desert.

Iris – WTF? As your book unfolds in Mexico, you refer to Mexicans as “wetbacks.” Twice. The first time I had to show my husband because I couldn’t believe it. Then he judged me when I kept reading. The second time? How is this okay – even in 1983?? And shame on you, Bantam Books , why wouldn’t you give this book a polish in political correctness? Shame on you.

But really, shame on me. I kept reading even when I knew it was wrong.

Lucky for Nick and Kelly, Nick speaks Spanish, can be a guys’ guy and he’s rich. So with promises of compensation, they are released to a small village where they find some baths and clothes. And there they wed.

Yes. They must marry. Why? Because the old school priest in the village, who happens to be driving to Acapulco in the coming days, won’t give them a lift unless they are legally wed. There really is no other way out of this situation, is there?

They have a lovely wedding night.

Since they are now wed, they get a ride to Acapulco where Nick’s got business connections. They get new clothes, a sweet hotel suite, and she gets a surprise – her beloved camera back. Somehow it survived the balloon crash, the banditos scavenged and then Nick bargained to get it back. Now she can take pictures again because that is what she loves most. Smiley face. That and sleeping with Nick who has blown open her virgin mind.

While they are waiting for the red tape around their lost passports, they take in the sights of the beautiful resort town. She learns to swim because despite following her journalist father all over the world she never had learned – this perhaps being the most outlandish idea in the whole book! If you grow up going to exotic locations, there is zero chance you’d actually learn to swim? Really?

Things get a bit complicated when his ex-lover shows up in all of her sophisticated womanhood, Kelly almost gets kidnapped when she shoots a picture of some Arabs doing some type of shady deal (more love from the ‘80’s right there) and despite all the hot sex, she feels like the relationship is lopsided. She loves him, and he just loves having sex. So she fires up that independent streak, contacts her editor and within hours is on a plane to SFO.  “She’d be dammed if she ended up as one of Nick O’Brien’s heartbroken discards.”

Original Cover: The Bronzed HawkHer editor and good friend, Mac Devlin, was hoping her stay in Mexico would be good for her health – she is recuperating from malaria after all. She caught a nasty case of it on her previous assignment in the “Mideast.” He welcomes her back with open avuncular arms and drives her out to his little cabin on the coast so that she can lay low and he can keep an eye on her.

But who braves the twisty coastal roads in the dense fog? Who is hot on her heels as soon as he learns she has left him? Right. Nick. The child prodigy (which is only ever mentioned once), father issues (brought up once), inventor (only alluded to, and that was once), insanely jealous (main character feature) shows up pounding on the door ready to murder Uncle Mac! And he’s wearing an aqua blue shirt with black suede pants. God bless you 1983.

“I’ve come to retrieve my runaway wife!”

Damn right.

They fight, then end up making out on the beach. And when she asks why did he come after her, he responds, “Because you belong to me.” But not in that sweet emotional soul mate kind of way that we all love. More in the overbearing I’m jealous and might start physically abusing you soon kind of way. The scary way.

But for Kelly, it was a dream to hear him say that and they live happily ever after.

Does it really end here – the most outlandish romance I’ve ever read? No. Because the title “The Bronzed Hawk” has zero relevance to the story, I’ve no idea where this comes from. At least the balloon could have been christened the Bronze Hawk. Also, on the back synopsis, it says her name is Kate. But that is wrong. She is Kelly.

In the end, reading this book was an endurance of shame. Shame on my second favorite book’s author for writing this pile of dookie, shame on her for including clear racist and sexist content, shame on me for actually finishing it.

The Bronzed Hawk is available from Goodreads | Amazon | BN | Sony | Kobo | All Romance eBooks.

Comments are Closed

  1. 1
    Connie333 says:

    Is it wrong that as I was reading this I kept thinking that if this was a movie I would totally watch it ?
    (Great review btw :))

  2. 2
    Rebekahramie says:

    Go You ! I would have tossed it at the 1st usage of the term “wetback”.  I’d like to live in my ” No one is That Racist ” bubble…put damn..people keep poking holes in it.

  3. 3
    carenlb says:

    What I really hate about, not sure if it’s the publishers or the authors, going with publishers because of the greed factor, publishers is that they reprint old books from a known author, slap a new cover on it, and basically say, “Yes, this is *NEW*.  Psych.”  I actually got to where I was picking the book up and paging to the section where it said when it had originally been published to make sure I hadn’t bought and read the original ten years before.  (That’s because I read too much but bad publishers for taking advantage of it.)  But now like this version, I’m looking at most books in Kindle and instead of saying it’s a reprint, it says it’s originally published in 2011.  (Technically, I suppose they checked with their lawyers and skirted around that niggling issue.)  Thank gawd for people who review the books before I get to them.  Shame on you, publishers.  Maybe shame on the author, too.

  4. 4
    snarkhunter says:

    I haven’t even finished reading this yet, but I gasped out loud when I read this: you refer to Mexicans as “wetbacks.”

    Wow. Just…wow.

  5. 5

    Oh dear. This one sounds so bad that it must surely be good. Somehow. I have a friend who loves only the trashiest of romance novels, and I suspect that she’d have a good chortle at this one.

  6. 6
    snarkhunter says:

    Wait, she caught malaria in the Middle East?

    (Okay, according to the Malaria Foundation International, it does appear in “parts of Iran and the Middle East”), but please.

    Then again, why am I complaining about that given the INSANE RACISM that apparently exists in this book?

  7. 7
    Beccah W. says:

    The 80’s was a special time indeed. I recently read a Cassie Edwards book from the decade (Savage Obsession) and was… appalled by the writing. There was an over-abundance of racism (in this case against Native Americans), blatant sexism, and too much forcible sex to sit well with me. It appears to me that in the 80’s Romance Novels were the written version of Soap Operas – with outlandish plots and reflecting the chaotic social/cultural climate, as women began to live different lives, and Political Correctness was beginning to be emphasized.

    This was a great review, and it made me so glad for the state of the genre today – MUCH more enjoyable to read! :)

  8. 8
    Flo_over says:

    I’m gonna be honest.  I laughed.  A lot.  I am so very not PC… :/

  9. 9
    ThisSoundedBetterInMyHead says:

    The reminds me of the new title from the “Women of Racism” series from Harlequin:

    He was a member of the Brotherhood, just out of prison for a crime that he didn’t think should have been illegal since those weren’t really people anyway.
    She was an Aryan princess who’d never even seen a black person before on her family’s compound in Montana.
    Together they found love…
    But could they weather the Storm Front (.org) know, that sounded funnier in my head, but now I feel compelled to vomit.  Excuse me…

  10. 10
    Sue V says:

    U. S. troops deployed for operations in Iraq and Afghanistan are give anti-malaria drugs as a preventive measure for the entire time they are in theater. We were told there are two primary strains, one that’s BAD and one that’s REALLY BAD as in kill you within a few days of catching it.  So yes Kelly could have caught malaria while on assignment nb the “Mideast.”.

    The rest of the review … F-ing brilliant.

  11. 11
    Smelly Pugsley says:

    Great, great review. Thank Christ we don’t live in the 80s anymore.

    However, I’m intrigued as to how they managed to grow climbing roses around the hot air balloon basket. Wouldn’t the thorns puncture the canopy, or wouldn’t the flowers get ripped off by the supersonic speeds required to navigate to Acapulco over a light lunch, or something?

  12. 12
    Rebecca (another one) says:

    Is it really bad because I thought how can you call them “wetbacks” if they are still in Mexico.  Yes, its a horrible racist term, but I though it was coined because people were crossing the Rio Grande into Texas, thus getting wet. 

    @Rebekahramie – Yes the first pop of the “No one is That racist” bubble was while I was in college, a little blond girl in a small town using the N word.  That’s part of the reason I have a problem with the romancelandia theory that small towns are morally superior.  in large cities you tend to be exposed to more different people.

  13. 13
    Terrie says:

    Someone really does need to keep track of the reprints.  Perhaps we could make it a public service when someone knows it’s a reprint to get on Amazon and post a review that, if nothing else, notes the original publication date.  Because getting slammed with a thirty year old book with thirty year old attitudes can be nasty nasty.  And yes, the publishers are being lazy because, really, there is just no excuse for racist language that is condoned by the leads in a popular genre book.  (I’ll defend it in literature—Huck Finn, case in point). 

    I grew up reading Georgette Heyer and then when I went to college fell off the romance bandwagon.  I didn’t actually come back till I was early thirties and this was late eighties/early nineties and I checked a bunch out of the local library.  I couldn’t get through them.  I do believe every single feminist cell in my body went beyond offended, beyond outraged, and into some sort of fetal shock.  The men were macho asshats,  the women fawning.  Rape scenes were prevalent and even in the non-rape scenes, the sex was so male centric, it was creepy.  WTF?  It’s one thing to look back on old skool romance now and be amused but at the time it was beyond depressing.  And damn it, I was on the prowl for a good romance.  Was an intelligent (not just “feisty”) heroine too much to ask for?  Was a man who respected her intelligence and not just her magic hooha beyond imagining? 

    Now I know that there were in fact some writers I would have enjoyed.  Too bad Jayne Ann Krentz hadn’t been in that group I picked up.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen a single one of her books that demeaned her female leads.  And I could be wrong but she might be one of the first to regularly include homosexual couples as positive models in her books.  If I had kept going, I might have found those books.  As it was, it was about a decade-and-a-half before I went near another romance.  In time to find things were WAY improved, thank you very much.

  14. 14
    CarrieS says:

    It’s not even racism – it’s INACCURATE racism.  To my everlasting shame, my father used to use the word “wetback”  all the time.  So I’m painfully familiar with it.  But the idea behind the term is that it refers to people of Mexican descent who live in the US who “swam the river” to get here illegally.  I could fill many pages with the many reasons that term is demeaning, but what’s relevant here is that you would not use it to describe a Mexican living in Mexico, even if you were a totally, horribly, racist bastard (sorry Dad).

  15. 15
    TMS says:

    Those who mentioned how the term “wetback” came to be are correct~it refers to those that swam the Rio Grande to get to the U.S. illegally. However, racist morons use that term to refer to any Mexican a lot of the time. Racists don’t care how a term came to be, they just like to use it. How I know this sucks—my parents best friends when I was growing up were an interracial couple. He was Mexican and she was Caucasian.  He was born in the U.S. but did not speak English until going to school so he spoke with an accent. He got called “wetback” quite often. He was a Mexican with an accent, so the racists assumed… UGH.  Unfortunately, even though I was raised in a home that did not condone racism, my bubble was burst early.

  16. 16
    Susan Reader says:

    On a practical note, about those publication dates… these days I always check a book site (fictiondb or fantasticfiction) for an earlier edition before I buy something in e-book form.  I’ve gotten caught that way enough times, thank you.

  17. 17
    Jenny Lyn says:

    Well, I laughed at this too but it was at Leslie’s hilarious recap, not at the racism in the book.

    And that is one hellacious leap in covers from the old to the new. The new one’s pretty but it has more of a chick-lit feel to it, very modern. I agree that somewhere on the cover there should be a statement that this is a re-issue of a book from 1983. The greed-shaming is totally deserved.

    I’m a little vague on my knowledge of hot air ballons but if one caught on fire wouldn’t it go poof rather quickly?

  18. 18
    Jenny Lyn says:

    Sorry, but I just noticed the cover does say “classic love story”, so they must mean like an 1983 Monte Carlo, not what Merriam-Webster says:

    1a : serving as a standard of excellence : of recognized value <classic literary=”” works=”“> </classic>

  19. 19
    Ezreader says:

    I’m a Hispanic woman, and it just seems odd to me that a Mexican person IN MEXICO was called a “wetback”.  Umm, the bandido’s were in their own country, so how are they wetbacks if they have yet to go anywhere!  It’s more like the H/H were the “balloon-backs” since they snuck over the boarder in their hot balloon of love.  LOL And why were there Arabs in Mexico???  This book has a whole lot of WTFery.

  20. 20
    Hannah E. says:

    Yay!  Another book rant!  This book sounds truely, mind-bendingly awful, Leslie.  Thank you so much for suffering through it so we can be entertained by your review.  :-)

  21. 21
    cleo says:

    I think the “Classic Love Story” tagline on the cover is code for reprint – at least that’s how I always interpret it when I see it on book covers.

  22. 22
    Tammyjpalmer says:

    Every author has books that should remain on a shelf collecting dust. Just because it was once published does not mean it deserves to be dusted off and brought into the light of day.

  23. 23
    cleo says:

    This review has me thinking about the difference 30 years makes.  As a teen in the 80s, it was so obvious that I was growing up in a better, more equal world than the one my parents grew up in the 50s and early 60s – girls could play sports, girls could study anything they wanted, we learned about the Civil Rights Movement and 2nd wave feminism in school, did I mention that girls could be anything they wanted to be (and weren’t limited to teaching or health care like my mom was)?  I was vaguely aware that there was still sexism and racism around, but I was also aware of how much better everything was. 

    Re-reading books from the 80s and even the 90s has been so eye-opening for me – because I can’t believe how backwards and dated much of it seems to me, even authors like Nora Roberts and JAK that I remember thinking were good when I read them in the early 90s.

  24. 24
  25. 25
    lori stone says:

    I refer to these types of books as WB’s or Wallbangers and not the fun type.  My cat has learned to be wary when I start to mutter out loud.

  26. 26
    Awasky says:

    I don’t agree that publishers should be going through and editing out things when they reissue a book. If the author wants to, that’s one thing. But for the publisher to censor it is dishonest. You can argue that they shouldn’t have published it in the first place (which I would), or that they shouldn’t reissue it, but I think drawing a line between censorship in lit-er-a-chur and everything else is arbitrary.

  27. 27
    Lauren says:

    I remember reading that book in junior high.  I hated it when the name in the book didn’t match the one on the back.  What I hated even more, and it happened once or twice in different books, is when the name changes within the first two chapters.

    I always check the print date in the book.  I’ve learned the expensive way that not every new book is a newly released book.  I like that Nora Roberts books always have either first time in print or first time in paperback.

    So many of the writers from the eighties and nineties haven’t aged well in the writing department.

  28. 28
    Rebecca says:

    I think something that came up in the thread about The Grand Sophy needs to be reiterated here: Yes, authors are products of their times.  But they are also CREATORS of the zeitgeist, not merely passive agents.  In other words: Don’t blame 1983 for this book.  Blame the author.

    I confess that my only introduction to Iris Johansen was a romantic suspense published around 2005 (and yes, it was a new novel, not a reprint) that involves some kind of mysterious island and scuba diving for treasure.  I stopped reading about 3 chapters in when the heroine meets the hero in (contrived) suspicious circumstances, but because of the instant overpowering attraction between them they end up having mind-blowing sex, after which the heroine is all worried that he may be a murderer who is going to kill her.  And she DOESN’T worry (once, even to dismiss it) about pregnancy or STDs from a man she’s never seen before who apparently has poor impulse control and sexual experience.  Sure, he might knife her in the back, but he’s definitely virus-free.  In 2005.  This is NOT because AIDS awareness didn’t exist at the beginning of the 21st century.  It’s because THIS AUTHOR didn’t have it.

    On a side note, about cute and intrepid photojournalists.  Did anyone see the “Mexican Suitcase” exhibit of photos of Robert Capa and Gerda Taro (who were both a professional and a personal couple, and who both had romancelandia good looks and daredevil personalities)?  There’s one roll of film Capa took of Gerda Taro (who was stunningly beautiful) asleep in a bare hotel room, wearing fuzzy pajamas with one foot sticking off the bed, and hugely frizzy bedhead hair.  It’s the cutest, most adorable set of pictures, and it must have been incredibly painful for him to look at them, because they were taken just before she was killed in a random traffic accident.  Someone should write a romance novel happy ending just for that lovely portrait of the artist snoring.  It could almost be the cover of a novel.  (It’s on this website, if you scroll down a little:;

  29. 29
    LauraN says:

    Agreed on the Iris Johansen thing.  I like romantic suspense, so I’ve ended up reading several of her novels, and I’ve got to say that most of them had things that made me raise an eyebrow.  Or shout obscenities.  I’ve decided that she gets no more chances from me.

    Also, someone made a comment about posting reviews exposing reprints.  I do that, and I have appreciated the reviews that others have posted that kept me from making similar mistakes.

    Then there was the time when I was so sure the book was a reprint, but it turned out that it was just sexist as hell.

  30. 30
    Susan says:

    Not to make light of it, but his book sounds pretty typical of 80’s romances to me.  I think someone else mentioned Jayne Ann Krentz—every one of her Stephanie James titles is at least as bad as this.  Maybe not with the racisim, but all of the other WTFery.  Reading about the crazy alpholes, you can’t help but think forward 10, 20 years and visualize all of the restraining orders, acrimonious divorces, hostage-taking with cops shooting tear gas into the house. . . .  Very bad. 

    That said, I don’t think they should be updated or censored.  They represent the time and, instead of whitewashing the past, we should look back and reflect.  These are the things that shaped us. 

    On another note, I can’t believe that even a review of a crappy books costs me money.  Because you know I had to buy Magnificent Rogue, right?

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