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.
- Hot air balloons
- Blatant racism
- Child prodigies
- An aqua blue shirt paired with black suede pants
- 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.”
Her 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!”
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.