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Kathleen Woodiwiss is credited with having pioneered the modern historical romance (which some call "bodice rippers") with The Flame and the Flower. I read that book while still in my teens, when a friend lent it to me, but it made such an impression that I bought my own copy. It's around here somewhere, buried in my piles of cartons, which I am slowly working my way through and unpacking. The thing is, a lot of her writing can be called purple prose, but there's a certain appeal to it. Maybe it's the heroes. And the heroines. Maybe it's the plots.  Despite my having moved on to reading books other than romances, I admit I still read a Woodiwiss once in a while-- actually prefer them to most of the other examples of the genre.

Today's featured book from my collection is Kathleen Woodiwiss's Petals on the River. You've got Shemaine O'Hearn, a beautiful, red-haired and green-eyed Irish colleen aboard a convict ship bound for the American colonies from England. Despite the fact that she is obviously a young woman of good breeding (read: rich and accustomed to luxury) and keeps insisting that she's innocent and the fiancee of a wealthy lord, she'd been convicted as a thief and is to be sold as an indentured servant.

You've got Morrisa Hatcher, another woman convict aboard the same ship, scheming to have Shemaine injured or killed, for no apparent reason other than she dislikes the girl. You've got Gertrude Fitch, the ship captain's wife, who's happy to oblige Morrisa because she thinks her husband wants Shemaine for himself (and she's right). Shemaine escapes these black-hearted women, however, when the ship docks at the town of Newportes Newes and she's bought by Gage Thornton, a widower looking for a servant to keep house for him and look after his young son. Only, there's another woman, Roxanne Corbin, who's none too pleased about this because she'd already marked out Gage for herself. Some of the people in the town dislike Shemaine simply because she's a convict and because Gage had been accused of murdering his first wife. Others, however, accept and like her, including widow Margaret McGee and the town hunchback and outcast, Cain. 

So how do all of these people and circumstances fit together? Who is Shemaine, really? Who is Gage? Who killed Gage's first wife Victoria? What was Shemaine's "crime"? All of that--- you find out as you read the book.

For those who have read Woodiwiss's book Shanna, there's a connection between this book and that one as well, and I don't mean the similarity between the names Shemaine O'Hearn and Shanna Trahern. Although, yeah, that might have something to do with it, it really might. But that's up to you to discover as well.

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