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'Irish Hearts' is a romance anthology of two novels by Nora Roberts both featuring, as the title implies, Irish women as the lead characters. These stories, 'Irish Thoroughbred' and 'Irish Rose', have a common link through these two women although they are standalone novels, one having been written almost eight years before the other.
This book was re-released in 2009 and is available from Amazon for £3.96 new or used for 1p.
I'll review the stories separately beginning with 'Irish Thoroughbred'.
Following the death of her aunt, Adelia Cunnane moves to the States to live with her Uncle Patrick, who is her only close relative. Patrick (Paddy) works as a trainer at the racing stables owned by the rich and powerful, Travis Grant. Although Adelia and Travis don't get off to the best of starts, he gives her a job because she has a way with horses. When circumstances require her to marry Travis, she has no option but to go along with the plan but will her heart be broken by her new husband?
This story was originally published in 1981 and it shows because it's extremely dated and the plot is totally contrived.
Being an early 1980s romance there is, inevitably, a beautiful, feisty heroine and an equally handsome alpha male hero. Adelia, affectionately known as Dee, is twenty three, although throughout most of the story she behaves more like a teenager having a tantrum. She has red hair which, in "romance-speak", again means that she has a temper. However, her temper only ever seems to be directed at our dashing hero. This clash of personalities, is a well used romance cliché which can only result in one thing: marriage! The way this marriage is brought about is so contrived as to be ludicrous. Dee's uncle has a heart attack and the only thing that will help him die peacefully is if Dee and Travis marry, and, amazingly, they go along with it!
This clash between the hero and heroine and the contrived marriage aren't the only romance cliché in this story. In fact, Nora Roberts seems to have used just about every one there is. There's a beautiful, yet nasty rival for Travis's affections, Travis was a "poor, motherless boy" and being deprived of a loving parent has grown up finding it difficult to express his emotions and, of course, there's a big misunderstanding. All these clichés are neatly wrapped up in the purplest of prose.
If you can suspend all belief then you may well enjoy this story. It's a romance of the Mills & Boon variety with an Irish heroine who, although she doesn't actually ever say "Begorra" or "Top of the morning" is as stereotypical an Irishwoman as only an American could write.
Quite frankly, the most flattering thing I can say about this story is that it's mercifully short!
Now for 'Irish Rose'. This was written as a companion piece to 'Irish Thoroughbred' rather than a sequel although Dee and her family make fairly brief appearances.
Erin McKinnon 's distant cousin, Adelia, is visiting Ireland with her husband, Travis Grant and family. Accompanying the family party, however, is Burke Logan a neighbour of the Grants and with whom Erin soon locks horns.
Although this story takes place in 1988 or thereabouts, Nora Roberts still hasn't completely eradicated the use of the cliché from her writing and, once again, at the beginning of the novel we're introduced to an Ireland not dissimilar to that portrayed by Hollywood and reminiscent of "The Quiet Man", complete with a feisty, red haired heroine much in the mould of Maureen O'Hara.
Erin is also definitely cut from the same cloth as her distant cousin, Dee, and although very attracted to Burke, she was antagonistic towards him from the start. So it's quite surprising that she should accept a job offer from him, although this is explained away by her desire to see the world before it's too late. It's never stated in the book what age Erin is but it's hinted that she's pretty young, possibly in her early twenties.
Burke (I really had problems with that name as it conjures up anything but a handsome man!) is a gambler who has acquired his racing stables in a game of poker, and there are quite a few references to chips falling and the like, just to hammer the gambling link home. We know Burke's a man of experience, but despite his great knowledge of women, he absolutely fails to recognise that Erin is a virgin! Mind you, her behaviour on occasion is such that he could be forgiven for getting hold of the wrong end of the stick.
Even for the late 80s, virginal heroines are a bit of a stretch, even ones from rural Ireland. And what follows is even more unbelievable. As Erin has already told Burke she's not prepared to live with him as his mistress, he proposes marriage, despite admitting he "wants" her but love doesn't come into the equation. Of course, this being a romance, Erin already loves Burke but hasn't told him, which in romanceland makes it morally acceptable!
One of the problems many readers of Nora Roberts' books highlight is "head hopping", in that within a single chapter, the point of view changes from one character to another almost paragraph by paragraph. There is a good deal of "head hopping" in this story which can be quite confusing sometimes.
I didn't like either Erin or Burke. She was forever flouncing about and telling him to "Go to Hell" and he was forever silencing her with a kiss! This may appeal to some innocent young thing just embarking on life but for woman of the world such as myself, it was just laughable.
You'll gather I didn't enjoy either of the stories in this book too much. I have a great deal of respect for Nora Roberts' writing skills nowadays, especially her contemporary thrillers and her futuristic crime novels written as J D Robb. She's definitely up there amongst the best in terms of romance storytelling,too, but it's pretty obvious that way back in the 1980s she was still cutting her literary teeth. The only word I can think of to describe both these stories is dire.
As an exercise in seeing how far a writer can progress, then it might be of interest to Roberts fans but twenty years down the line, the stories just don't stand up to modern tastes or gel with modern morals either. Unless you're prepared to wade through 512 pages of absolute tosh, my advice would be don't bother reading this book.