Return to Santa Flores by Iris Johansen

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I give this book 5-stars for sheer absurdity. If you can suspend your disbelief and want to be taken on a completely implausible (and thankfully brief) ride of a bit of 1980s sex and glamour, then by all means give Return to Flores a go.

Let’s just look at some of the book’s issues:

1. It’s set in 1984. Were it set in 1964, the Jurassic depictions of women and male/female relations may have been more believable. But it’s the 1980s: Jackie Collins, shoulder pads, career women. Women are no longer considered infants-under-male-protection by the age of nineteen. Yes – you read that correctly – nineteen.

2. I’m all for a bit of age-gap and ward/guardian, but it’s downright creepy when he seems to have been so taken with her as an eleven-year-old child (has her picture painted in his bedroom), has been a “big brother” figure as she grows up, and later admits to barely being able to resist her once she’s 17. Had he not seen her for eight years, then reencounters her as an adult woman, that might have been more palatable.

3. I’m also all for a bit of “ravishment” but literally every guy in this book (bar the chef who must be gay) is a terrifying predator. No kidding. There are FOUR different guys in this book who “have a go” at Jenny – from aggressively flirty to actual sexual assault (seriously: the heroine nearly gets raped twice, and that’s excluding the hero’s considerably dominant attentions).

4. You want a job? So you’re quitting school at nineteen (who is still at high school at nineteen, by the way?) but you put all your money into a one-way ticket from Switzerland to your guardian’s lavish Las Vegas casino resort, then live off free food, free accommodation, and a lavish designer wardrobe that your guardian arranges. How about going to London and actually getting a job as a waitress?

5. Suddenly he’s decided to marry her to “protect” her. Then just as suddenly we find out it’s only a marriage of convenience (wtf? a few pages previously he was all “Jenny, I’ve got to have you” as “he groaned and his hands worked frantically at the front zipper of her jeans”) and he doesn’t plan to consummate the union, but instead let her get an annulment later when she’s grown up. Again, wtf, she’s NINETEEN. It’s not a normal right of passage for adult women to legally marry an ersatz male relative for a few years to protect their virginity. At least not in any reality I’m aware of.

6. Then of course they do consummate the marriage. By this stage you’re so irritated with the pair of them that you couldn’t really care less about what they do. Then it becomes all about how “he’s not letting her get pregnant” and he’s making gyno appointments for her.

7. She runs away again, to make her own way/get a job/whatever. She lasts no more than about two hours in a supposedly seedy sex motel before every. single. male. in the book (bar the two attempted-rapists) suddenly appears on the scene to “rescue” her. Truly, she is really is beyond pathetic.

8. Then they reunite, and it’s all about having a baby. “Wouldn’t you like to put your seed in me, and know that a part of you is growing inside me?”Well actually, Jenny, I wouldn’t. Frankly I’m revulsed by the pair of you, but relieved to finally be on the last page.

Apologies for the massive amount of spoilers in this, but it’s one of the most absurd books I’ve ever read. I’m still wondering if I’ve missed something. I regularly read historical romances where heroines are even younger, and they still manage to have courage, initiative and determination: Jenny has none of these.

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