Sunfire Romance Novels
In the 80s, the world was lit by Sunfire!

Oct
01

I started writing this post, like, years ago, so maybe it’s time to get it up there…and as I’ve mentioned before, #29, Diana by Mary Francis Shura, is one of my favorites. It’s focused on the Louisiana Purchase and the Lewis and Clark Expedition.

Diana Front Cover

Diana Front Cover

Front Cover Blurb: She’s been a citizen of two countries, but where does her heart belong?

Back Cover Blurb: It was a time for adventure…and a time for love.

Main Character: Diana Hawkins, curly pale golden blonde hair, blue eyes. Diana is the youngest of all the Sunfire heroines. She is only 14 years old when the book begins, but has just turned 17 when it ends. This was a really smart move on the author’s part as it sets up Diana to be young enough not to know her own mind before the expedition leaves, and yet still not old enough to be considered a spinster or forced into marriage by the time the men return. Diana is the daughter of wealthy parents originally from Kentucky but now living in New Orleans; her father runs a fur trading company out of St. Louis. Despite her young age, Diana’s parents send her to their St. Louis home to help run the business in an adult capacity…and to keep her safe from the unrest in New Orleans after it is transferred from Spanish to French to American hands.

Suitor #1: David LaPointe, New Orleans gentleman, blond hair, blue eyes. If his family hadn’t fled the French Revolution, he would have had a title. He represents the French-leaning Creole citizens of New Orleans, most of whom are extremely unhappy to be handed over to the American government. But David is most often described as “sunshine,” and you can’t much imagine him being political or unhappy about anything. He is a truly sweet young man. In fact, he’s so good that he almost lets go of true love because of honor.

Suitor #2: John, no last name ever given; mahogany-brown hair, dark eyes, light beard. He is a member of the Lewis and Clark Expedition to explore the West after the Louisiana Purchase. (Did the author not give him a last name because there is a very finite historical list of men who joined the Expedition? And since there were “three Johns,” that leaves it very open as to which John is Diana’s.)

Setting: New Orleans and Saint Louis, November 1803 through October 1806.

On the Cover: Middle, Diana, all dressed up in the blue gown she wears to the party where she first meets David, the same gown she wears to a party in honor of the men of the Expedition…but still looking kinda awkward (maybe appropriate for a 14-year-old hostess? WHAT is with the tiara…isn’t that a bit much? I always felt her chin and neck were weird or something); on the right, David, dressed up to look like a gentleman in contrast to John, on the left, looking very much the buckskin-clad explorer. John has a beard in the story, and doesn’t in this image. But WHAT is with his hair? I literally studied this image, trying to decide if he’s got 80s feathery hair or is actually supposed to be wearing a fur cap. Also, he looks very much like Jason Bateman, and I know Jason Bateman was on Silver Spoons until 1984, but I can’t verify how much he looked like this image in 1984, so… [Conversation with my sister: “Do you think this looks like Jason Bateman?” “Yes, but it might just be because of his hat.” “I don’t think he’s wearing a hat.” Hysterical laughter.] Bottom right: Diana and John courting. He’s definitely not wearing a hat here, so I’m going with the “feathered hair” story. Bottom right: The Place d’Armes (later known as Jackson Square), including St. Louis Cathedral, in New Orleans, where the transfer of the Louisiana Purchase territory took place.

Diana Back Cover

Diana Back Cover

The pacing of Diana is so strange that I wonder if it was originally meant to be a 300+ page Sunfire and had to be drastically cut to hit the new format. Another option is that the author just doesn’t show a whole lot going on for 30 months while the Expedition is away so it’s easy to breeze over that time in a few pages. After all, one downside to Diana is that it’s about the Lewis and Clark Expedition…which all takes place away from the main character. But the smart thing is, she focuses on the unrest that took place during this time and its effect on the people. To give you an idea, the expedition leaves on page 136 of a 216-page book. Six months pass in the 25 pages after that, and then a whole year passes from pages 162 to 174.

Diana starts just as the transfer of the Louisiana territory is taking place. She meets David, who has seen her on the street and fallen madly in love with her, even though she’s not yet 15. (It was a different time, okay? Sheesh. Or maybe she just looked older. But he seems pretty respectful in any case.) David arranges an introduction to Diana at a party, reveals his intention to eventually make her his wife…and is immediately friend-zoned for all time. Oh, they’re GREAT friends. They love each other dearly. But in a marriage, both of them would have been bored to death in no time. Diana even prefers nature walks in the great outdoors to being shut in drawing rooms in New Orleans’ high society. You do wonder throughout the book, though, if Diana is eventually going to settle for David, or even come up with one of those “a good marriage is based on gentle caring” lines.

But instead she meets John, who is NOT a nasty pirate or full of himself or anything he’d be in a Schurfranz book. He’s a nice single young guy from Kentucky who has volunteered for the Lewis and Clark Expedition. When he meets Diana, he accidentally believes she’s a servant of some sort since she’s wearing plain clothes for a hike. But no matter who she is, John doesn’t want to leave a broken-hearted woman behind him as he heads off into the great unknown. He has no way of guaranteeing he’ll come back alive, or when, or if they won’t have both grown up and changed by then. When he falls for Diana he tries avoiding her, but then they both realize they should just make the most of whatever time they have together (chastely, of course). They make no promises when they part ways, but Diana is enough in love to wait for his return before making any life-changing decisions.

She spends the first year that the expedition is gone by spending time with David and helping her best friend Vi plan her wedding to the hotheaded Phillipe. Of course, she also eventually lets her Kentucky-born grandmother teach her things that might be useful in the wilderness, like cooking. (This is basically one throwaway paragraph, but it’s important that Miss High Society might need something more than a tiara if she wants to become an frontiersman’s wife.) Eventually, a tragedy forces David to admit that not only is he not romantically in love with Diana, he’s actually fallen in true love with someone else. But that doesn’t necessarily mean Diana will get a happily-ever-after.

Or does it? While I really like the setting of this book and the time Diana takes to grow up and learn about herself, I feel that the ending is just too rushed. At least we get a little more than an immediate “I’m back! Let’s get hitched!” sort of thing, but not a lot more.

Just a note of interest: when reading as a teen, I never realized the foreshadowing when Phillipe buys the black furs for Vi’s engagement gift and is warned they are sometimes used for mourning. Now, I think that was very nicely done.

Up Next Blurb: Coming next from Sunfire: RENEE, who during the Great Blizzard of 1888 in New York City, finds the courage to be a heroine, and to fall in love.

The last Schurfranz! HURRAH!!! I’ll try not to let it be another couple of years from now…I really do want to finish the last three books.

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Jul
20

Surprise! I bet you thought I’d never get back to these last few books, but I decided to slog through Sunfire #28, Josie…and I it wasn’t really as bad as I remembered. Hmmm.

Josie Front Cover (no credit obvious, but it looks like Joel Iskowitz)

Josie Front Cover (no credit obvious, but it looks like Joel Iskowitz)

 

Front Cover Blurb: Her ride for the pony express changes her dreams—and her heart.

Back Cover Blurb: Can Josie have love and adventure?

Main Character: Josie Gaits, curly dark brown hair (referred to late in the book as black), turquoise-blue eyes, 5 feet tall. Turns 16 a few chapters into the book. She lives in Carson City, Nevada, with her widower father, older brother Tim (who rides for the pony express), and younger siblings, seven-year-old Frankie and five-year-old Molly. Her mother died in childbirth a year ago, and Josie has taken over as housewife and mother to the younger kids…something her father seems to take for granted. While she toils away, Josie is dreaming of the great wide somewhere and something more than housework.

Suitor #1: James Donley, 19 years old, curly blond hair, green eyes, 6 feet tall. He’s the manager of the Carson City pony express office. Josie thinks of him as more of an older brother; he’s always around to help her with chores and take care of the children.

Suitor #2: Mike Bradman, just turned 18 at the start of the book; black eyes, black hair, and sideburns. He’s an orphan who is hired by James to ride for the pony express. He’s a tiny little guy, 5 foot 7 and 120 pounds, which makes him an ideal rider. He’s also totally full of himself as he sweeps into town and sweeps Josie off her bored little feet.

Setting: Mostly Carson City, Nevada, Spring through Autumn 1861.

On the Cover: Middle, Josie, looking like a beauty queen accepting an award. Left, James, looking like a farmer. Right, Mike, looking more attractive than I feel Mike really was in the book. Bottom right, Mike leading Josie on a horse, which is somewhat misleading, as Josie rides well enough to not need anyone to lead her. but, there’s supposed to be a “couples” image, so there it is. At least he’s not “saving” her.

Josie Back Cover

Josie Back Cover

 

Josie is interesting in that Josie is stuck in the characteristic female roles of the time before she’s ready, and she really wants freedom to experience something else. It’s not necessarily that she never wants to be a wife and mother, but she’s been shoved into these roles way too soon, as a 15-year-old girl, and has very little support (except from James, and older brother Tim when he’s around). It’s no wonder that she’s immediately smitten with Mike, who’s the embodiment of freedom. I think there’s even a small part of Josie that envies Mike’s ability to ignore Frankie and Molly, which she sometimes wishes she could do as well.

Of course, this is Schurfranz. James calls Josie “Little One,” although to be fair she tells him not to, and she has a typical Schurfranzian episode of staring at herself in the mirror and marveling at her reflection so we get her description. Otherwise, it’s not until about three-quarters of the way in before the book really falls apart. At a convenient moment, there’s no one to take the description of the Battle of Bull Run to Sacremento, so she jumps on her (nearly wild) horse to take the mail herself. She encounters a deadly rattlesnake; a rockslide; mildly hostile Indians, who of course make friends with her; a gang led by a female bandit, who of course makes friends with her; and…oh, no, you knew it was coming…

frollo fire

Did you miss me?

 

NO, Frollo, NO ONE MISSED YOU. No one would have missed you if you’d stayed out of this book, but of course you didn’t. This time Frollo is one of the bandits, a nasty bugger named Jake Grimes (let’s hope he’s not an ancestor of Rick). Jake wants to kill Josie, while leader Lee plans to set her free after they’ve performed their last robbery. Jake waits til everyone else is gone, and…does he try to assault our heroine? Does he even really try hard to kill her? No, he just yells “Josie Gaits!” a lot until she jumps on his horse and leaves him with a reluctant mule named Mousie. You would think that would kill Josie’s sense of adventure, but in about 10 minutes of chores, she’s ticked at her family again.

From there, it’s a race to the typical Schurfranz finish. Not to spoil it if you haven’t read this book, but the ending is almost word-for-word straight out of Danielle or Laura. The only difference is that the losing suitor isn’t a big jerk; he really wants Josie to be happy.

What impressed me most about this book was lots and lots of historical facts about the pony express. There were also tie-ins to the start of the Civil War, mentions of the railroad, and even Mark Twain. Overall, not a fabulous book, but it’s not as terrible as I thought.

Up Next Blurb: Coming next from Sunfire: Diana, strictly raised in a wealthy family, falls in love with a handsome stranger who may never return from the Lewis and Clark expedition!

Diana was one of my favorites, it was so unusual! The youngest Sunfire heroine, and also showed the longest period of time covered.

Jun
29

So after all the time I took to get through Nora, I absolutely flew through the joy that is Sunfire #27, Margaret by Jane Claypool Miner.

Margaret Front Cover (Credit: Joel Iskowitz)

Margaret Front Cover (Credit: Joel Iskowitz)

Front Cover Blurb: Her new life as a prairie schoolteacher brings hardship–and love.

Back Cover Blurb: Can her worst pupil teach her the most important lesson of all?

Main Character: Margaret Evans, curly black hair, blue-gray eyes. Turns 16 about halfway through the book. She is an orphan who lives with her aunt and uncle in their plush Chicago home, but as her aunt is so fond of telling her, she has the adventurous spirit of her father. She gives up her cushy life to become a schoolteacher in Nebraska. (Her chosen swain eventually nicknames her “Meggie.”)

Suitor #1: Robert Clark, dark reddish-brown hair, dark brown eyes, 20 years old. He is the second-youngest son of a Nebraska farmer; his 16-year-old brother Henry is Margaret’s most disruptive student. To help Margaret keep the students under control, Robert starts coming to school too. Margaret thinks he’s there to be another thorn in her side, but Robert really wants to learn to read.

Suitor #2: Gerald Moore, golden blond hair, blue eyes, age 19; Margaret compares him to a china doll. (No, seriously.) He’s the son of a New York banker and came out west as a teacher to escape working in the bank, but also misses the culture of the big city.  He’s glad to find a kindred spirit in Margaret. He teachers in another town, but comes to visit quite often.

Setting: Mostly Clarkstown, Nebraska, 1886-1887.

On the Cover: Middle, Margaret, looking jaunty in her blue travel suit; on the right, Gerald, looking like a bit of a dandy; on the left, Robert, looking very much like a staid farmer. Bottom left: Margaret seeming to be wooed by Gerald (hmm, what makes me think they were actually talking about food?) Bottom right: the little schoolhouse.

Margaret Back Cover

Margaret Back Cover

If you’ve read the Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder, especially These Happy Golden Years, you’ve seen most of the plot of this book. A prairie schoolteacher younger than some of her students; children who misbehave when the teacher can’t control them; blizzards; prairie fires; and unpleasant landlords and living conditions. Yet Margaret has a certain personality and charm all its own. This is one of the rare Sunfires where a love quadrangle develops: Margaret, Robert, Gerald, and Margaret’s second landlady, 19-year-old Mary Whitaker. Mary is the widow of Robert’s older cousin, and Margaret is convinced both suitors are courting Mary. Mary, in turn, claims both come to court Margaret. Margaret is a prickly little thing, happy to see insults from Robert where there are none (shades of Gary and Roxanne).

Up Next Blurb: Coming next from Sunfire: JOSIE, who makes a daring ride to danger–and love–for the Pony Express!

All I can say about Josie is…UGH. I’m not looking forward to it, but it’s the second-to-the-last Schurfranz, and I like Renee much better.

Aug
03

Hey everyone,

Just wanted to invite you to check out my new blog, Tessa’s Books and Tea Room, at http://tessasbooksandtea.wordpress.com/. I will still be working on this blog, but the Tessa’s Books blog will review more current books (and maybe a few of my favorite classics.) Right now, I’m planning to post about any and all genres that I read.

Hope you enjoy it!

And the Nora Quick Notes will be up soon, I promise.

May
27

Surprise! I bet you never thought this was going to happen, didn’t you? I started writing this recap in May of 2013. Here’s the thing. Sunfire #26 by Jeffie Ross Gordon features one of the least-popular heroines: Nora. Before I started rereading it, I thought, “People give Nora a bum rap. Sure, she starts off as a horrible person, but she changes, kind of like Amanda.” Well, not exactly, and I have to admit that Nora ticked me off so much that first I didn’t want to finish reading it, and then I didn’t want to write about it. But if I want to finish the quick notes for all the books, I have to get through it. So here we go.

Nora Front Cover

Nora Front Cover

Front Cover Blurb: The earthquake has destroyed her city, but not her dreams!

Back Cover Blurb: It’s as easy to fall in love with a rich man as a poor man. Isn’t it?

Main Character: Nora Mary Kate Brady, curly red hair, green eyes. Nora is the greatest social climber since Cinderella (with my apologies to Eva Peron and Tim Rice). She, her little brother, and her father are all lower working class, but Nora wants to be rich. She wants to be somebody. She wants to marry a banker and live in a mansion. And she has her poor future husband all picked out.

Suitor #1: James Fitzpatrick Duffy (Jamie), wavy rust-colored hair, blue eyes. He is a bank teller with dreams of being an aviator, but if Nora has her way, she’ll bully him into being a banker instead. Jamie is kind of brainless, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t deserve to have dreams of his own. He is obsessed with airplanes, and Nora doesn’t want to hear about them. These two are so amazingly mismatched that their marriage would be an epic disaster. Nora doesn’t want Jamie; she just wants to manipulate him into getting her what she wants. And Jamie doesn’t listen to Nora, either. You can’t really blame him, but on the other hand, he won’t make a great marriage partner when he’s so self-obsessed. Enter the earthquake and…

Suitor #2: Morgan Prescott (actually Andrew Evans Makepeace); brown hair, gray eyes. Nora finds him buried in some rubble, calling for help. “Morgan” has several injuries, including amnesia. But he’s carrying a whole lot of money in an envelope marked “Morgan Prescott,” so they assume that’s his name. Then, when someone who knows the real Morgan Prescott refutes this, everyone wonders if “Morgan” is really a thief. (He’s not.)

Setting: San Francisco, March through May 1906; Great San Francisco Earthquake of April 18, 1906

On the Cover: Center, Nora, looking very modern. Right, Jamie in flying gear. Left, Morgan/Andrew looking very banker-esque and not like an amnesia victim pulled out of rubble. Lower right: Morgan/Andrew and Nora, maybe at the end of the book? Nora still looks like her head’s in the clouds, or some delusion. Background: San Francisco burning.

Nora Back Cover

Nora Back Cover

So what really are the problems with this book? Well, I hate Nora. No, really, I hate her. Even after the earthquake happens, and she doesn’t know if her family has survived, and she finds Morgan, what does she do? Tells him she’s a rich socialite who lives in a mansion. Now maybe if NORA had been injured, if some bricks fell on HER head, and she thought she was actually her own fantasy, that would be different. But this nonsense is ridiculous. She has no idea who this guy is, no idea if they’ll live through the day…and she’s lying to him, because that’s what’s important to her. CRAZY.

And then, even after everything is settled and she realizes she loves Morgan, no matter who he is, and Jamie comes to her and offers to give up flying to make her happy…SHE. CONSIDERS. IT. Really, Nora? REALLY??? It’s like she learns nothing. It’s an insult to compare her to Amanda. Amanda would whup her skanky little butt.

Coming Next Blurb: Margaret, who won a job as a schoolteacher in a one-room pioneer schoolhouse on the prairie–and the hearts of two very different men.

I’ll be honest here: Margaret and Josie are also not my favorite Sunfires, but I WILL try to get to them in less than eight months. And then Diana, which is one of my favorites for some weird reason. (I think I just really like Shura Sunfires.)

May
16

Sunfire #25 is Merrie by Vivian Schurfranz. This may be the Sunfire least focused on romance, save for perhaps Schurfranz’s most romantic moment.

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Merrie Front Cover (Credit: Joel Iskowitz)

Front Cover Blurb: She’s run away to become a part of history, and to fall in love.

Back Cover Blurb: It will take everything she has to survive the first year at Plymouth Colony.

Main Character: Merrie Courtland, curly blonde hair, brown eyes. She is 15 at the start of the book when she stows away on the Mayflower to escape an arranged marriage. Really, would a father who allows his daughter to be named Merrie really force her to marry a middle-aged merchant?

Also, let me address something here which is never officially called out in the book: Merrie’s apparent stutter. Seriously, this girl stammers too many times to count. Usually when saying “I,” which as a Schurfranz heroine she does A LOT.

[Okay, do I think Schurfranz really intended for her to have a stutter? No, I think it’s just her way of trying to convey hesitation in Merrie’s dialogue. However, as the family member of someone with a stutter, I don’t really appreciate the overdone effect.]

Suitor #1: Luke Bosworth, red hair, blue eyes, a member of the Mayflower’s crew. He finds Merrie hiding in one of the longboats and threatens her…before falling in love with her, of course. He points out that Merrie doesn’t really fit in with the Pilgrims and asks her to return to England with him.

Suitor #2: Zachariah Gaines (Zack), a Pilgrim with black curly hair and black eyes. He starts out as an assistant physician, but makes it apparent that his ultimate goal is to get rich as a trader. He’s respected by the colonists, but that status may degrade by consorting with “Stowaway Girl” Merrie.

Setting: The Mayflower and Plymouth Colony, 1620-1621

On the Cover: Center, Merrie wearing her red traveling dress, with her hair and cloak flying off in the window behind her. Right, Zack, looking Pilgrim-esque. (Pilgrimish?) Left, Luke, looking like he should be hanging out with Captain Jack Sparrow. Bottom right, Merrie embracing Luke, who is holding onto the rope to nowhere. Bottom left, the Mayflower.

scan0085

Merrie Back Cover

As I said, I really don’t find that this Sunfire is focused on romance. However, it does feature the most Frollo-ish of all Schrufranz’s Frollo characters: Oliver Loomis, a stern Pilgrim with yellow-gray eyes (what does that look like?) who hates Merrie’s guts.

Harlot! Jezebel! SINNER!!!

Harlot! Jezebel! SINNER!!!

But what IS his motivation, really? Here is a list of what Merrie does that makes her persona non grata to the Pilgrims:

  • She stows away.
  • She wears a red dress.
  • She shoots a turkey.
  • She sits idly when recovering from the “general sickness.”
  • She fishes for eels, standing bare-legged in the water with her skirt hiked up.
  • She makes friends with the Native Americans.
  • She dances while singing a sailor song on her birthday.

For this last offense, she is given the choice of being sent to the stocks or exiled from the colony for a week. Seriously. They allow a barely 16-year-old girl to be exiled in the wilderness for a week when she chooses that over humiliation (which is kind of stupid, but…teenage girl).

Luckily, this is a Schurfranz book, so of course Merrie survives and thrives. She single-handedly saves the colony when an Indian war starts brewing. She decides to leave for England, but once back aboard ship, she realizes she can’t leave and returns. Cue the romantic moment I mentioned. Merrie sees Zack watching the ship leave harbor, believing Merrie is still aboard, and witnesses his heartbreak at his foolishness in letting her go.

When Oliver Loomis realizes he hasn’t rid the colony of Merrie, he still tries to separate her from Zack in an effort to make her miserable (you KNOW there’s something else going on with this guy’s obsession with Merrie). Finally, the first Thanksgiving is celebrated in honor of Merrie, natch.

Oooh, I was going to get excited because I thought there was only one more Schurfranz, but I forgot about Reneé. Which is weird because I think Josie is a LOT more forgettable than Reneé,

Apr
28

Once again, work has delayed my return to the blog. I’ll try to keep it going consistently for the next few weeks.

Anyway, many weeks ago I re-read the third Historical Disasters book, The Great Chicago Fire, 1871 by Elizabeth Massie.

Chigo Fire: 1871 Front Cover

Chicago Fire: 1871 Front Cover (Credit: Wendi Schneider)

Front Cover Blurb: In the glow of a burning city, an unexpected love…

Main Character: Katina Monroe, an 18-year-old orphan whose entire family died during the Civil War–her father in battle, her mother and sister when deserters from Sherman’s army burned down their Georgia plantation down with the family trapped inside. Katina lived in an orphanage until, disguised as a boy, she ran away to Chicago to find the only family she has left. Unfortunately, the Monroes of Michigan Avenue refuse to see her, so Katina continues to live as “William,” a 15-year-old playwright who lives in the slums. In her boy disguise, she has cut her curly auburn hair short.

Suitor #1: Russell Cosgrove, 19 or 20 years old; long, dark brown hair and blue eyes. He is described on the back as a “minister,” but it’s not meant in a religious sense. He’s left college and his working-class home to help the poor. He works as a bootblack, but he’s really trying to get articles published about the plight of the poor, and also opens a shelter called “Homeplace.”

Note: It’s unfortunate that my sister has been forcing me to marathon “Rules of Engagement” off Netflix, because all I’m getting from “Russell” is…well…

Ah, Mr. Dunbar. Seriously, WHY doesn't Timmy just quit?

Ah, Mr. Dunbar. Seriously, WHY doesn’t Timmy just quit?

Suitor #2: Adam MacPherson, who owns the theater that “William” writes plays for. Then he allows Russell to use the theater part-time for Homeplace.  (Russell versus Adam? Where’s Jeff?)

Setting: If you didn’t guess…It’s Chicago, 1871! Seriously, the story starts in June, and goes up to the night of the fire: October 8. Then the epilogue jumps to 20 years later.

On the Cover: Right, Russell, and left, Katina. Let me just say, with all apologies to the artist/photographer…I’m sorry, I hate this cover so much. They’re supposed to be scrambling for their lives in the middle of a fire that destroys an entire city, and Katina looks positively bored, if not sleepy. Russell looks bored too, but at least a little determined…like he’s looking at a particularly nasty floor that needs scrubbing. There is NO excitement in this cover at all, except for the flames behind them. And Katina is carrying a lamp! What the HELL…the LAST thing she would need at this point is a lamp. Is there some sort of insinuation that Katina started the fire with her lamp? Did she pick up the lamp at the O’Leary barn? Just…no. Wrong, wrong, wrong.

Even the blurb is wrong: the “unexpected love” took place well before the fire.

Let me also rant a bit here about how out-of-place this photograph seems after the illustrations on the first two books. It’s like the publisher couldn’t decide what they wanted this series to be, so they just went all over the place with it.

Back Cover Blurb: No place to hide…

Chicago Fire: 1871 Back Cover

Chicago Fire: 1871 Back Cover

Similar Sunfire Book: None, and it always upset me greatly. Especially as we got toward these last few books, where most of the “historical events” were natural disasters…blizzard, flood, hurricane, earthquake…but no Chicago fire! Bummer. I suppose if there’s one it’s closest to, it’s Caroline with the heroine-in-drag motif.

That said…I didn’t find this book particularly effective. Part of the problem is that, in a 208-page book, the fire starts on page 136. So about 1/3 of the book is about the fire; the rest is just setup. Katina and Russell meet, face some danger, become roommates, face some danger, deal with Katina being revealed as a girl, have a misunderstanding, begin courting in earnest, have sex on the pier, have a misunderstanding…and THEN we’re at the fire, finally. By that time you’re already exhausted from all the danger and misunderstandings.

Again, the sex is highly implied and not spelled out. We see Katina pushing off Russell’s suspenders (tee-hee…Russell) and begging him three times to “love her.” Then, when they wake up together the next morning, Katina hopes “to see in his eyes the same love in them she had seen the night before.” (Aw, she forgot to sing “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow” before they headed to the pier.)

UP NEXT: Merrie, who changed her name from plain ol’ “Mary” so she could dot the i with a little heart. (No, not really.)

Mar
24

Sorry about the hiatus…I’ve got a very busy work schedule at the moment. But here, without further ado, is a post that’s been in the works for a while.

Sunfire #24 is one of my favorites: Gabrielle by Mary Francis Shura.

Gabrielle Front Cover (Credit: Joel Iskowitz)

Gabrielle Front Cover (Credit: Joel Iskowitz)

Front Cover Blurb: Is it the showboat magic that makes him love her?

Back Cover Blurb: She’s a showboat star. Will she have to give it up for love?

Main Character: Gabrielle Prentice, 16; curly black hair, blue eyes. She is an actress and singer on her father’s showboat, the Levee Princess. In a Little Mermaid-esque way, she longs to live on the land rather than a boat that travels the rivers year-round. Then, while practicing her new tightrope-walking act on the shore, she is startled by the sudden appearance of David Wesley and falls straight into his arms.

Suitor #1: David Wesley, blonde hair, blue eyes; a farmer from Missouri. When he sees Gabrielle walking above his head on a broomstick stuck in the trees, he is stunned and thinks she’s something from a dream. He falls into instant lust with the idea of something so exotically different from his farm life and proceeds to chase the showboat from town to town. But falling into love with an idea isn’t the same as falling in love with a real person.

Suitor #2: Stephen DuBois, dark hair and dark eyes. He’s a fellow performer on the showboat. We’re told he’s older than Gabrielle, but still young enough for her to consider him a peer; she was excited to have another “young person” on the boat. But Stephen’s kind of a jerk. Or is he? (No, he is. Just not quite as jerky as David.)

Setting: 1880, a showboat on the Mississippi River and a small Missouri farm.

On the Cover: Middle: Gabrielle wearing her yellow dress and carrying the (fake?) flowers she holds onstage while singing. Left: David, looking spoiled and combative; Right: Stephen looking arrogant and dressed as an acrobat. Bottom Left: Gabrielle walking the tightrope. Bottom right: Gabrielle and David embracing.

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Gabrielle Back Cover

I remember loving this book, and a reread proved that it stood the test of time for me. My love for this book has nothing to do with romance; in fact, I think one of the themes of this book is that what we commonly think of as “romance” is a lot of smoke and mirrors. The real love story in this book is a teenage girl coming to appreciate her own identity.

Gabrielle goes to stay with David’s family on their farm so she and David can get to know each other. But David’s mother is thoroughly ashamed of having an immoral actress in their home and wants Gabrielle to stay incognito. Of course, David’s sometimes fiancé, Molly, has her own reasons for wanting to sabotage Gabrielle. At a town dance, when Gabrielle is publicly revealed as a showboat performer, David begs her to deny her identity to the crowd. Instead, Gabrielle proudly walks to the stage and belts out the uncensored version of “Forget You.”

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But she left her muppet costume on the boat.

Okay, not really. She thinks about it, but instead sings a beautiful ballad that moves the crowd to tears. So Mrs. Wesley is shut up, Molly is shut down, and Gabrielle realizes a relationship with David will not work out.

The biggest misstep of the book is the reveal that Stephen was head over heels for Gabrielle from the moment he saw her, but felt he’d have to prove himself to Captain Prentice before asking permission to court her. So this means he had to act like a complete ass-hat to her? Until he admits his love? Yeah, no. At least they agree to take their time getting to really know each other and don’t jump straight into an engagement. Gabrielle does allow a chaste kiss, though.

I hope Stephen grew up to be a man worthy of Gabrielle, or that she left him for the greatest man on earth, because she deserved it.

Next Up: Another entry in the “Historical Disasters” series, and then after that…ugh, Merrie. I’ll try to make it sooner rather than later!

Jan
25

The second book in this series is San Francisco Earthquake: 1906 by Kathleen Duey.

San Francisco Earthquake Front Cover (Credit: Sandy Young/Studio Y)

San Francisco Earthquake: 1906 Front Cover (Credit: Sandy Young/Studio Y)

Front Cover Blurb: From the ruins of a vibrant city, a love that defied the odds…

Back Cover Blurb: Panic in the streets!

Main Character: Sierra O’Nielle, 18; dark brown hair, gray eyes. She is an orphan and a chambermaid at the Palace Hotel. She is smitten with one of the guests and daydreams about him taking her from her job and drab boardinghouse forever.

Suitor #1: Cameron Slade, curly brown hair, dark brown eyes, with a scar on his left cheek. Both Sierra and Camille Harlan are head-over-heels for him, but he’s got a hidden agenda.

Suitor # 2: Joseph Harlan, 21; blue eyes, never learn his hair color. Joseph is the son of a wealthy rancher and comes to town with his father and sister, Camille. Ben Harlan wants both of his children to make good marriages, but Joseph really wants a strong, independent woman, not a bit of society fluff.

Setting: San Francisco, April 1906

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San Francisco Earthquake: 1906 Back Cover

On the Cover: The front cover shows Sierra in her housekeeper’s uniform with her elaborately braided hair (kudos, artist!) and, I assume, Joseph, standing under a chandelier in the hotel. The back cover image shows Joseph dragging Sierra through the streets while the fire rages around them.

Sunfire Counterpart: Nora (But I’ll have to write a comparison when I get to Nora. I know Nora’s character is generally viewed as negative since she’s a social climber, but overall that book is probably superior to this one.)

This book is very strange. One of its major flaws is that we get third person point of view from about 8 different characters: Sierra, Cameron, Joseph, Camille, Ben, Sierra’s landlady, some drunken neighbor of the Harlans’, workers at the hotel…it’s not very cohesive. I guess the author was trying to give us the perspective of how different people view the earthquake and its aftermath, but it doesn’t really work. The setup goes on FOREVER, the earthquake takes place on page 96 of this 195-page book. And it seems like most of the setup involves Sierra and her housekeeping cart or Camille and her corset.

There are lots of other problems with the book. Sierra is in love with Cameron right up until she finds his journal. Then she hates him but falls in love instantly with Joseph. To his credit, Joseph fell for Sierra at first sight, so at least he was into her before the earthquake strikes. And Cameron really never gets his comeuppence; he just kind of gives up and disappears. Ben accepts Sierra into the family after about two minutes. And who cares about the drunk neighbor or the hotel waiter? It’s all very disjointed and not very convincing.

Although the author doesn’t come right out and say that Sierra and Joseph slept together in the tent the night after the earthquake, it’s strongly suggested. Sierra thinks about how she “gave herself willingly” to him, and Joseph later remembers the “whole wonderful night,” which is an odd description of spending the night in a refugee camp. By comaprison, it is stressed that Cameron was a “perfect gentleman” with Camille and “never laid a hand on her.”

Next up: Gabrielle, which not only stand the test of time, but seems to have gotten better with age.

Jan
05

Sunfire #23 is Heather by Vivian Schurfranz.

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Heather Front Cover (Credit: Joel Iskowitz)

Front Cover Blurb: She is brave enough for life in the new world–but is she brave enough for love?

Back Cover Blurb: Two men love her–but one of them might be plotting to kill her.

NOTE: That is a horrible blurb. If one of them is plotting to kill her, he can’t really love her, can he? Unless he’s a psychopath. Then again, does anyone who’s NOT a psychopath plot to murder a teenage girl? Am I thinking about this way too much? Yes, yes I am.

Main Character: Heather Lawson, turns 16 during the book; black hair, green eyes. She is a former English village girl whose father was awarded some land in the new world for hiding Charles II and his brother James when they were on the run from Cromwell.

Suitor #1: Jan Ryswyk, curly blond hair, blue eyes. Jan is a Dutch riverboatman who becomes smitten with Heather after he saves her from drowning. (She herself was saving a young Indian boy from drowning, but that’s beside the point.) But Heather’s father has a strong prejudice against the Dutch, so he’s not exactly supporting this relationship.

Suitor #2: Michael Downing, brown hair, gray eyes. He is the son of the Lawsons’ neighbor, Lord Robert Downing, and an artist. Of course he wants to paint Heather because she’s so beautiful. But Lord Downing wants the Lawsons’ land, and he’ll go to any length to get his way.

Setting: New York, 1665

On the Cover: Center, Heather in her red riding habit. Left, Jan. Right, Michael. Bottom right: Michael riding with Heather the night of the fire at the Willow Acres wharf, although Heather shouldn’t look quite so… faint? Damsel in distress-ish? Points for the green dress, though. Overall, I really do love Iskowitz’s work on these books.

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Heather Back Cover

The book’s setting aside, if you’ve read one Schurfranz Sunfire book, you’ve already read this one, too.

  • Heroine spends time studying her blossoming curves in the mirror? Check.
  • Hero announces the heroine’s physical features by marveling aloud at her astounding coloring? Check.
  • Hero calls the heroine “Little One”? Check.
  • Heroine strips down to her undergarments for an inappropriate swim? Check.
  • Heroine performs life-threatening acts of amazing selflessness? Check.
  • Mustache-twirling older male villain?
Yo.

Yo. But I resent the implication that I would be a better villain with a mustache.

A couple things do differentiate this book from the others. One, Heather’s father deprived their village of its idiot by moving to New York. The man cannot make a decision; good thing he has Heather to run their lives for them. He’s ready to roll over and play dead until Heather announces that OF COURSE they won’t sell Willow Acres to Lord Downing. Right? RIGHT?? The only time he doesn’t act like he’s had a lobotomy is when he firmly announces that the Dutch are all evil and Heather is forbidden to associate with Jan. Hmph.

And you know how usually a Schurfranz book has a nice suitor and a jerky suitor? Well, both of these guys are pretty jerky. It’s probably a setup so the reader doesn’t know which suitor (if either) is really the villain. But the thing that’s supposed to make the reader feel bad for one suitor actually just makes him seem like a wuss, so whatever.

Up Next: On the Historical Disaster front, there’s a book coming about the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake…so we’ll have a good comparison for Nora in a couple weeks. On the Sunfire front, one of my favorite short-format Sunfires, about what happens when love at first sight goes horribly wrong.