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Granny Reads: Embrace the Flame by Diana Haviland

At this point this is the winner by far for Granny Reads. Haviland's novel covers all the major tropes of a historical bodice ripper. Our heroine's name is Desire, and she was tragically orphaned during the latest plague. Despite her gentle upbringing, Desire finds herself at the mercy of a brothel owner who orders her to either become a whore or earn her keep as a thief. Obviously our virtuous heroine can't become a whore, so she tries to steal from a man who turns out to be a highwayman with a mysterious past, whom we eventually discover is the wrongly disinherited son of a late country gentleman. It all sounds so ridiculous, and yet the relationship between Desire and Morgan feels so real.

As far as any old school conventions of the genre, Desire is nearly raped about a billion times in this book, typifying the (hopefully) outdated notion that attempted rape should be seen as a compliment and confirmation of your good looks. There's also a homely spinster who is, of course, an evil shrew and causes all sorts of trouble for Desire, but her brother ends up disowning her for her misdeeds, so clearly being bitter about not having men attempt to rape you gets you nowhere.

When I was in library school and studied romance novel reading habits (seriously, read Reading the Romance if you care at all about this stuff), I was surprised to learn that some women really do read historical romances to learn about history. While specific historical details like this aren't usually my thing, in this case it wasn't too obtrusive and did help me understand the story a little better. The action takes place during the Restoration of the English monarchy, shortly after the Black Plague of 1665 and towards the end of the book is the The Great London Fire of 1666. King Charles II is even a minor character. Our characters spend time in Newgate and the details of the deplorable conditions there makes prison today look like a vacation. Such a specific historical setting also gave me a pretty good idea how the story was to be resolved.

Annoyingly, this is another romance novel where the cover has nothing to do with the story. Several times in the story Desire's raven hair is mentioned, yet our cover model is blond. With the typical cheesy pose, it's almost comical how little this picture has to do with the story.

If you like historical romances, then this one offers a lot to love, and you owe it to yourself to find a copy.
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