Desert Isle Keeper
Ride the Tiger
It took me over 10 years to read this book. Well, let me explain. It sat on my TBR shelf for 10 years before I finally decided to grab some of the oldest (and dustiest) books and read them. I wish I had read this book when I first bought it because I had cheated myself out of reading what is probably one of my favorite – ever – category romances. Ride the Tiger is a perfect example of why I love category romance and why it makes up most of what I read. In 250 pages, it packs a fantastic hero, a wonderful heroine, a gripping and intriguing plot and a love story that will alternately thrill you, make you cry and break your heart. It’s the type of book where, after you finish it, you wonder what’s next for the characters. Certain scenes and moments linger in your mind, and you find yourself thinking about it for days and weeks afterwards. It takes a special book to have such an impact on me. And, boy, did this one.
Ride the Tiger is unique in many ways, beginning with its setting; 1965 Vietnam. Category romances rarely do stories that take place in the past, and this particular place and time is fairly unique (BYRON lists just 21 romances set in the Vietnam War). Furthermore, the author makes the world come alive, not just in vivid detail of the land and it’s people, but she’s able to make the reader understand the political climate of the times without getting bogged down in minutiae. Another reason why it’s so special.
Dany Villard is a French born heiress living in and running her rubber plantation in DaNang, Vietnam. Her mother, a former Hollywood actress, never interested in the business and too busy dating a general stationed at a military base nearby to be concerned about work – or the fact that the war is coming ever closer to their solitary and happy way of life. While Dany is aware of the war, the plantation and her family’s neutrality leads her to believe her world is safe. She knows that if the Vietnamese perceive that she is involved with the Americans, belief in this neutral stance could instantly vanish, which is why her mother’s relationship with the general troubles her. When she watches, horrifed, as her mother’s car hits a mine planted on the property and is instantly killed, Dany realizes that her concerns were prescient. In that moment, Dany’s life – and the life of Major Gib Ramsey – changes forever.
On his way to the nearby base, Gib witnesses the explosion, and Dany running toward the burning car to save her mother. He races to the scene and stops her, making her realize that there’s nothing she can do. Collapsing in this stranger’s arms, Dany lets the man comfort her and is drawn to him even in her grief. And Gib, despite the situation, feels the same way. But once she gains her senses and realizes that his presence could make a dire situation worse, she sends Gib away. And while neither can forget the other, they are certain that they’ll never cross paths again. Days later, Gib is shocked and unnerved to be assigned the investigation into Dany’s mother’s death. Dany isn’t happy about it either, mostly because she knows she is being watched by the Vietnamese and they might see his presence as further evidence of her conspiring with the Americans.
While they initially aren’t happy about the other’s intrusion in their lives, Dany and Gib find themselves bonding over their feelings about the importance of family, their love for the land, and their concern over young Vietnamese boy who lives on Dany’s plantation. Against her better judgment, Dany decides to continue to see Gib (though away from her home) and they find their feelings growing ever deeper. Ultimately though, and not only because of the danger to her way of life, but also because she sees that the children of American GI’s and young Vietnamese women are abandoned once their fathers return home and are shunned by the country in which live, she decides to break it off with Gib before things progress too far. But the circumstances around them and their own feelings pull them together time and again.
Gib and Dany’s love story is probably one of the most powerful I’ve ever had the pleasure to read. The bond between them is instantaneous, but unlike a lot of other books, the hero and heroine don’t spend the novel undressing each other with constant mental lusting. These two connect on a deeper, more intimate level. Though many novels tell us this or try to convince of it, I truly believed they were soul mates destined for one another.
I found myself fascinated by Gib. He could’ve been just another military hero; strong, silent, protective, etc. But, he’s much more than that. Unlike a lot of solider heroes (meaning the strong, silent, non-committal types), Gib has no problem vocalizing how he feels about Dany, how he wants a life with her. He easily and unashamedly expressed his feelings, yet doesn’t come across as a wimp. He’s a romantic and the way he treats Dany and the romantic displays of affection he has for her would make any woman fall head over heels for him. What I liked most about him was that not only did he love Dany; he respected her. Her needs, the things were important to her and her feelings were something he always took into account, even if it meant it might cause the end of their relationship. He didn’t expect or assume she’d give the life she’d grown up with because she loved him. To me, that showed how much he truly cared for her – and what kind of man he was.
As for Dany, I was even more taken with her. I’m usually not a fan of virgin heroines, and Dany’s probably the youngest I’ve ever read about (she’s 21), but she’s more mature, bright, intelligent and complex than much older heroines. She’s strong, determined and tough, but caring, compassionate, and warm. Not once does she lose an ounce of her femininity, nor does she come across as a brat in her insistence to control and run her life in her own way. And yet, she is still naïve (thought not stupid) and has a sense of innocence. More importantly, she doesn’t rely on Gib to solve her problems or make her life better. To her credit though, she’s smart enough to accept his help when it’s offered and doesn’t refuse him in a show of independence or to keep control of her life. And while he does help her is there to support her, it’s made clear that Dany can make it and survive on her own. She doesn’t become a quivering ball of need when the hero steps into her life, even as her problems mount and life gets more and more tenuous.
As Dany and Gib fall in love (and make love – in some very steamy and sensual romantic scenes), things do get increasingly tenuous. Their love is strong and the bond grows ever deeper, but outside forces: the war, her loyalty to her plantation, the investigation into her mother’s death and the fact that Gib will be soon return home make being together seem impossible. In fact, the conflict is so well drawn, the plot so tense and complex, that I found myself wondering if the hero and heroine would find themselves together at the end and if so, how in the world would they get there?
But get there they do, but not without much emotional anguish, heartbreak and tears, some incredibly tense moments of danger and sacrifices that neither of them expected to make. Nearly every emotion is pulled and touched upon in the pages of this book. More than once, I found myself gasping in surprise, sighing at the romantic lushness of their scenes together or shedding a tear at a difficult moment in their lives. Yet the reader doesn’t feel manipulated, just caught up in the whirlwind of emotion and praying somehow that they’d make it. And in the end, when they finally do confess their love and plan a life together, both of their lives are so different from when they met and they have both suffered and lost so much that their union at the end had a bittersweet, poignant touch to it.
Ride the Tiger represents everything a great category romance (or frankly a great book) should be. It offers wonderful characters, a gripping and involving plot, a romantic and sensual love story and lush and powerful writing. I’m a long time reader of Lindsay McKenna and have always loved her work. This book reminds me why; it’s probably now my favorite of all of her novels. It’s going from my TBR shelf to my keeper shelf. But I have a feeling I’ll be taking down from time to time and immersing myself in this wonderful love story again and again. And it won’t take another 10 years next time.