The year is 1864. The Civil War is coming to an end, and more white migration west is going to soon affect Abigail Trent Monroe, her husband “Cheyenne” Zeke Monroe, and their seven children.
The more immediate threat to the Monroes comes in the form of Englishman Sir Edwin Tynes, their new neighbor.
While that is going on…
The Monroe Children’s Lives Take Major Turns
Wolf’s Blood, the Monroes’ oldest son, is seriously injured at the massacre at Sand Creek, becomes embittered, and joins his uncle, Swift Arrow, and the Sioux in fighting against white encroachment.
Daughter LeeAnn is kidnapped by Comanches and Zeke goes to rescue her.
Meanwhile, back in Colorado, the eldest Monroe daughter, Margaret becomes sexually involved with one of Tynes’ cowboys, who refuses to marry her.
After this, Margaret tries to disavow her Indian heritage and becomes a prostitute. Margaret later marries a man, Morgan Brown, a mulatto, who buys into the Monroe ranch to help the family get back on their feet financially.
On an even sadder note, the youngest daughter Lillian, whose health has always been fragile, passes away.
These events drive a major wedge between Zeke and Abbie.
Zeke’s Brother, Dan, Finds Love…Again
Zeke’s white half-brother, Dan, is back in the West and in the Army, but without his wife, Emily, and daughter, Jennifer, he’s starting to become attracted to Bonnie Beaker Lewis, whose husband was killed by Indians.
Later, Emily dies, giving Dan and Bonnie an opening to act on their feelings. Dan and Bonnie later marry.
As For Zeke and Abbie?
Zeke sleeps with Anna Gale, a former prostitute now boarding house owner, while he is debating whether to leave Abbie and his family due to all they have endured.
However, he and Abbie reconcile and they become a family again.
I’m repeating myself, but Ms. Bittner is exceptional at digging deep into the soft underbelly of the emotions of her characters, both good and bad. It’s an emotional roller coaster, but Ms. Bittner’s fans–of which I am one–know it’s worth it.
Not much to criticize here in Climb the Highest Mountain. I’d love to see the Monroes be happy, but I doubt that will happen.
Ms. Bittner’s love scenes are typically unimaginative.
One thing Ms. Bittner’s readers come to expect from her books is plenty of violence, and Climb the Highest Mountain certainly doesn’t disappoint in that regard. Assault, rape, shootings, killings, they’re all here.
Bottom Line on Climb the Highest Mountain
Frequent readers of Rosanne Bittner’s books know what they’re getting from her work. It’s all here in Climb the Highest Mountain (Savage Destiny SeriesBook #5): exceptional emotionalism, and rawness.
It’s not always happy, but it’s great nonetheless.
Rating Report Card
Ever since her gaze locked with Lone Eagle’s over a crimson campfire, young Abigail Trent knew her fate lay with the virile Cheyenne scout. She had married him, borne him children, and endured all the hardships of the rugged frontier. But even though so many years had passed, each night found the white squaw melded to her Indian mate, burning with the need to prove their passion again and again.
Now new troubles rose to challenge them: Homesteaders poured into the unmapped territory, determined to wrest the land from the forbidden lovers and their “heathen” people. Abbie and Lone Eagle had conquered greater threats than this, surviving bandits and outlaws, fevers and wounds. They would overcome this danger, too, as together they struggled for their own way of life and fiercely embraced their savage destiny.
Passion’s Chains by Catherine Creel was a crazy book that in 1991 could only have been published by the Zebra romance lines. Or in 1977 by Avon.*
It was utterly unrealistic, but I had a blast with it.
Passion’s Chains was the first romance novel I read after subscribing to the Lovegram line many, many years ago. The plot description on the back of the book sounded like this would be a riot. And it was!
Lady Eden Parrish met American ship captain Roark St. Claire in England. The two people from different worlds shared a hidden, forbidden love.
The pair married in secret. However, before they could consummate their union, Eden’s family tricked her into believing the worst about Roark.
Thus, Eden is abandoned by her husband, and her is heart broken into pieces.
Then Eden’s family whisked her off to their Barbados plantation to avoid any taint of scandal.
Eden is living a lonely existence in Barbados. Months later, Roark discovers her whereabouts in the Caribbean and follows her there. The American is captured by the British and sold into slavery.
Walking through town one day, Eden sees him at the auction block. To everyone’s scandalized shock, she purchases him as her servant.
Perhaps sentimentality plays a part in me remembering this novel so fondly. I thought this book was delightful.
Roark would sneak into Eden’s room at night and assume his “husbandly rights.” By day, he labored away in the sugar fields, plotting his escape and his revenge.
On the negative side, there was a bland secondary couple and some typical boneheaded villains.
Worse, were the stupid, big misunderstandings Eden and Roark could have avoided if they just talked and listened to each other’s words!
Final Analysis of Passion’s Chains
I don’t want to re-read Catherine Creel’s Passion’s Chains to see if it stands the test of time. I want to recall it fondly because I had such a blast reading this one!
Roark was such an outstanding hero. Eden was likable enough for a heroine.
Passion’s Chains or Shanna?
*This historical romance was a rip-off/homage to Kathleen E Woodiwiss‘sShanna, as the plots are similar identical. So are the heroes’ names, except the spellings are different.
Until 2022 I had never read Shanna. I appreciated the celebrated blockbuster considerably more than I thought I would. Still, at 600+ pages, it was a long read.
Passion’s Chains is a leaner story at 400 pages, without much filler. That is amazing for a Zebra romance!
Ultimately, I enjoyed this book more than Shanna. Maybe it’s for the reason I mentioned, out of nostalgia, or just because I read Passion’s Chains first. But I did love this one.
Rating Report Card
HE HAD BETRAYED HER Lady Eden Parrish stared in shock at the bare-chested, blue-eyed rogue who stood so proudly on the Bridgetown auction block– he was none other than her husband, the despicable Roark St. Clair! Eden had been sent to Barbados in disgrace after her brief, scandalous marriage to the unscrupulous American spy…after the way he’d betrayed her, she ought to let his contract of indenture be sold to the highest bidder. But memories of how it felt to be embraced by those strong arms and held tight against that well-muscled chest flooded her mind and body, and soon Eden was offering a fortune for the right to claim him as her own!
SHE STILL LOVED HIM Roark had come to Barbados for only one reason–to reclaim his runaway bride. Of course, getting captured by the British and sold into slavery hadn’t been part of the plan, but t situation was working out nicely, things considered. He would find a to escape and take the luscious along, with or without her consent. The little minx might be his mistress now, but he’d soon be her master. He knew just how to tame her wild spirit and make those emerald eyes shimmer with passion’s fire. Before long, he would possess every silken inch of her…for this night and all the nights to come!
Gordon Merrick, Victor Gadino, and Peter and Charlie
Gordon Merrick created the legendary and popular Peter & Charlie gay romance series. The trilogy portrayed the first mainstream love story between two men that concluded happily ever after.
The books provided another milestone for same-sex fiction when reprinted in the 1980s. A young artist named Victor Gadino illustrated the iconic clinch covers. Never before had male couples been pictured so intimately on the front of romance novels.
On the front of The Lord Won’t Mind, the blond pair are gazing into each other’s eyes and reaching out to hold hands.
Gordon Merrick, Writer of Gay Melodramas and Romances
Gordon Merrick was born in Bala Cynwyd, Pennsylvania, in 1916. The new 20th century was moving on a more socially liberal trajectory. Merrick would be part of that cultural momentum.
The son of a stockbroker, Merrick studied French Literature at Princeton. He then got into acting, performing in several Broadway productions. Later, Merrick became a television screenwriter and journalist.
Merrick made history as one of the first novelists to depict graphic homosexual fiction for a mass audience. His tawdry novels were full of melodrama, sex, and beautiful men. Usually, they concluded in heartache for the main characters. Merrick’s books were tantalizing reads akin to those of Harold Robbins, Judith Krantz, or Jackie Collins, only much gayer.
Modern readers might chuckle at the almost-innocent vulgarity and campy nature of his works. Or they may cluck their tongues at the “outdated” themes and unapologetic preference for ultra-glamorous, gorgeous, continent-hopping, wealthy protagonists. Merrick essentially wrote man-on-man bodice rippers, after all.
Merrick wrote fourteen books over 40 years. He would die in Sri Lanka in 1988.
His final novel, The Good Life, was co-authored with his partner, Charles Hulse, and published after his death. Like most of Merrick’s books, it was a bestseller.
Merrick’s Peter and Charlie Trilogy
The Lord Won’t Mind, the First Mainstream Gay Romance (Sort of)
Merrick’s piece de resistance, The Lord Won’t Mind, came out in hardcover in 1970. The book told the turbulent and forbidden love story of two beautiful, blond Ivy Leaguers–one named Peter and the other Charlie.
It was a graphic page-turner and sold like pancakes at the old World’s Fair. The Lord Won’t Mind spent four months on the New York Times bestseller list.
The mass-market paperback edition was then released by the publishing house Avon in 1971. This was a year before they gambled on Kathleen Woodiwiss‘ slush-pile manuscript for The Flame and the Flower.
The Lord Won’t Mind (from left to right): Bernard Geis Publisher, 1970, first edition hardcover; Avon, 1971, paperback edition; Alyson Publications, October 1995 paperback edition
A Genuine Romance Novel About a Same-Sex Couple
Due to societal changes, there was a hungry audience out there for explicit fiction. Merrick’s work was just that: raunchy and schlocky.
“For the love of God, have mercy on my aching cock. I want you in bed.”
Readers anxiously hoped for the pair to end happily but were left hanging instead. It would take two more books detailing the erotic, taboo relationship for fans to find out what would happen. The sequel came out in 1972; the final book followed in 1974.
Enter Artist Victor Gadino, Another Gay Icon
The success of the series led Avon to give Merrick the star treatment. His books would now receive extra attention to detail—especially the cover art, an area where Avon excelled.
In 1977, an up-and-coming artist named Victor Gadino landed the job of creating new covers for Merrick’s backlist. He started with An Idol For Others. This mass-market paperback showed two males–one in a suit, the other shirtless–in a positively seductive manner.
“Avon books decided to rerelease the Merrick novels as typical mass-market romance paperbacks. Up until then they had simple covers and were sold in specialty shops or from “under” the counter. The head art director was a strong female with vision and a great eye.
“It was the early days of gay liberation and she recognized the time was right. She saw my talent and gay sensibility and gave me the assignment for the first cover, the most conservative one, An Idol for Others. I never met Mr. Merrick, but I was told he was not happy with the mature model I used and thought he looked too old.
“He was, however, very pleased with the eight covers that followed, all using handsome young models.”
One For the Gods (Charlie & Peter Book #2): More Gay Romance, But No HEA Yet
The sequels to The Lord Won’t Mind documented Charlie and Peter’s glitzy lifestyle as the golden duo engaged in a thrilling, illicit, on-again-off-again relationship. The second book, One For the Gods, introduced a third person into the mix to form a crazy love triangle.
First there was Charlie and Peter.
Their love affair broke a lot of conventions… but it didn’t break them all. For Peter and Charlie are in love–with each other–and with Martha. And Martha is passionately in love with them both.
From St. Tropez to Athens to Mykonos, this powerful, moving novel follows their devastating triangle of romance and desire through a world of sun-drenched pleasure and Mediterranean adventure.
The Gadino cover art is more intimate than the previous one, with the couple holding hands. However, the third wheel in this romance is prominently pictured, showing all is not well in paradise.
Forth Into Light (Charlie & Peter #3): A Gay Romance with a HEA
Finally, in 1974, Forth Into Lightconcluded the romantic series.
In the final chapter of the bestselling epic love story of Peter and Charlie, the two men are forced to fight for their relationship like never before
For two men with the looks of Adonis and Narcissus, it’s no surprise that Greece was the destination for a romantic getaway. Once there, however, the two men fall into the beds of others, with the duplicitous Martha striving to steal Charlie away from Peter after he has a moment of infidelity.
For the final installment of the Peter & Charlie Trilogy, Gordon Merrick widens his focus on the couple to include the village in which they’re staying, creating a web of deceit and lust that comes to a head in unexpected and satisfying ways, while the love between Peter and Charlie is tested repeatedly with the emergence of a passionate young man named Jeff. The bond between these two has spanned the years and the globe, but it could well meet its end here on the lush Greek shores.
Below is the original cover for the conclusion to Charlie and Peter’s epic romance. The artwork is neither overt nor titillating. The two hands reaching out to touch the other appear reminiscent of Michelangelo’s work in the Sistine Chapel.
Gadino Masterpiece: A Gay Romance Clinch Cover
Gadino’s clinch cover for the monumental gay romance Forth Into Light is more emotional and evocative than the original. The two men have their arms around each other’s shoulders. Their backs face the viewer as they stare out at an ocean sunset.
Readers knew this was not just another sex adventure by looking at the cover. This was a true romance novel, one for gay men.
The Peter and Charlie Trilogy by Gordon Merrick was monumental mainstream gay fiction. Unlike the slashy melodramas of the pulp era, the love story finished on a positive note. The protagonists got a joyful ending.
Merrick’s audience-pleasing, optimistic conclusion, and Gadino’s sensual clinch cover make the Peter and Charlie series–and Forth Into Light especially–pivotal in gay romance history.
Have you heard of or read Gordon Merrick and the first gay romance novel with a HEA? Did you know about Victor Gadino’s history-making 1980s clinch cover art for the reissue of the series? What do you think about these romances and covers?
As always, please drop a comment, and let’s talk romance.
Antonia Ramirez knew that the tall, blond American was not to be trusted. Hadn’t it been American soldiers who had killed her mother and left her father a cripple? Yet Tristan Hampton had awakened something deep inside her that would not be denied.
Since the moment he’d first laid eyes on Antonia, Tris Hampton had been lost. He was haunted by her dark beauty. She made him feel he’d finally found the completeness he’d spent a lifetime searching for. But her father clearly hated him, and someone wanted to see him dead. Of Antonia’s love, he was certain. The question of her loyalty was still to be answered.
Patricia Potter creates a wonderful Latina heroine in Antonia Ramirez in her Harlequin HistoricalThe Silver Link. She falls in love with the Anglo-American Tristan Hampton. The two are from different worlds. Despite the great risks in front of them, they are united by a love stronger than any bond. As such, they share a link that never can be severed.
Tristan Hampton is a military man from Virginia. He is on a mission to oversee Albuquerque’s stable transition from Mexican rule to American governance.
Antonia Ramirez is a beauty he must have. She is descended from noble, land-owning Spanish lineage. Her New Mexican roots go back generations. Her family–and more importantly her would-be husband, Ramon–are hostile to Tris, the Yanqui soldier.
When Antonia and Tristan first meet, it’s instant love. There will be many obstacles ahead before they can be together if that happens.
This was one of the first Harlequin Historicals I read. The Silver Link was a sweeping epic of two people from different societies. I enjoyed how Tris and Tonia would always find times to meet in secret. They would return to their mesa time again to share their passion.
Forbidden love is at its best here.
Here is a word of warning for those who dislike violence. The Silver Link is also quite gruesome and bloody. Tristan is shot, beaten, and has to save Antonia numerous times from attempted rape.
Final Analysis of The Silver Link
The Silver Link by Patricia Potter is packed with thrilling action. It’s also an outstanding love story.
Antonia is a rare Latina heroine, for the time. Her proud and resilient nature made her stand out. Tristan is an equally strong American hero. The Mexican-American War era is an intriguing period of transition and is a remarkable setting. Overall, it’s a hard book to forget.
There are older romances I enjoy out of pure nostalgia. I know they’re not perfect. Nevertheless, I like them. Stranger in My Arms by Louisa Rawlings is one of the rare flawless gems that gets better with every reread.
This romance set in France first caught my attention over thirty years ago. I love it as much today as I did back then.
Stranger In My Arms even earned the treasured seal of approval from Kathe Robin, the legendary book reviewer and editor of the now defunct Romantic Times Magazine.
Stranger in My Arms: My Favorite Historical Romance
A Harlequin Historical published in 1991, this book is 300 pages of tiny type-face, and there’s no room for it to lag.
Every character, no matter how minor–be he an innkeeper doting on guests; an avaricious villain intent upon deception; a mute orphaned boy; a mercury-addicted nobleman mourning the deaths and losses caused by the French Revolution; or a jealous camp-follower–every individual in this novel is imbued with vivid sense of realism and depth.
Stranger in My Arms is sublime perfection, from its whimsical opening:
If Charmiane de Viollet remembered the Reign of Terror at all, it was as a vision of Aunt Sophie running about shrieking, her fleshy bosoms popping from her bodice as she snatched wildly at the canary that had escaped its cage.
The rest of the story had been recited to Charmiane so often that it had assumed its own reality: the desperate flight from their townhouse in Paris—the carriage loaded with silver and luggage and oddments of furniture—the mad race for the Swiss border, the mobs and the looted carriage, Papa’s final fatal stroke. Very dramatic, very graphic, especially as Uncle Eugene told it, but strangely unengaging.
For Charmiane, the single emotion connected with that event would always be levity—the remembrance of those pink mounds bouncing absurdly against Sophie’s stays in delicious counterpoint to her squeaks and wails.
Charmiane de Viollet is a 22-year-old widow from Switzerland who is returning to Paris with her exiled relatives. She never witnessed the horrors of the French Terror. Although her late husband was an abusive beast, she still displays the optimism of youth.
Her loyalty becomes torn between her devotion to her Ancien Regime family and her love for a parvenu upstart.
At times, she is an imperfect heroine, too trusting and too impetuous, but also generous, refined, and filled with joy.
Adam-Francois Bouchard, Baron Moncalvo, a Colonel–then eventually–a General) in Napoleon’s Grand Army, is the kind of hero I adore He’s blond, masculine, and handsome (but not pretty), a soldier, gruff, awkward with women, a bad dancer, loyal to his country, and a man of unrelenting honor.
I don’t usually like soft heroes and can tolerate “jerkiness” to a fairly extreme degree. However, it is the imperfect, all-too-human heroes who captivate me the most.
Then there is Adam’s twin brother, Noel-Victor, a mere corporal in the cavalry and a charming rake. But, while his looks match his twin’s, they are two different souls: one is filled with light and laughter, the other with darkness and dread.
The first three chapters deal with Adam’s and Noel’s first meeting with Charmiane. The magical enchantment that follows at a ball attended by Napoleon himself is the stuff of dreams.
Charmiane’s eyes shine in devotion to her dashing hero, and they dance the hours away and later bask in the romantic afterglow of that one perfect night…
If you don’t fall in love with Charmiane and Adam within these first chapters, then this may not be the book for you. As I am a sentimental sap, I weep every single time I read this book.
Adam and Charmiane’s love story unfolds against the backdrop of Napoleon’s France. They struggle to be together as family, politics, war, and personal vendettas take over their lives.
All the Tropes I Adore in Romance
Stranger In My Arms is an exquisite treasure of a novel is filled with sensitive writing, passion, sadness, and love. And so much more.
The love letters: While Adam is off fighting, he writes to his cherished Charmiane, referring to her as his “Dear Helen.” In these correspondences, the yearning he feels for their long-distant love is palpable, as well as his disillusionment and horror in what seems a meaningless war.
There is the brother vs. brother trope, fighting each other for a woman’s love. I admit to a bit of hypocrisy in my reading. I hate love triangles involving the hero and two women, especially when siblings are involved. But the heroine who is torn between two brothers trope, when done well, then that’s one I can appreciate.
And if it’s between twin brothers, even more so. Here, this plot point is executed perfectly, for what we see is not always true.
There are even bodice ripper elements, so be warned if you’re not expecting that in a Harlequin Historical.
The Love Story
Adam is a leader of men, stoic and brave…
Yet, he is so filled with pain that even he is brought to tears. This man has reason to cry. Adam has no mommy issues, nor a woman who hurt him in the past.
There is no other woman, period. Only Charmiane.
What torments him is the awfulness of war: the meaningless deaths of his compatriots; the frozen and rotting flesh of his fellow soldiers’ corpses in the Russian snow; the depths of depravity; and the loss of his humanity that overwhelms him. He weeps for the loss of his soul.
Only Charmiane can bring it back to him.
As said, unlike many of my nostalgia loves, this book gets better with each reading. Every time I find something new to appreciate.
Most of my favorite historical romances are not set in the all-too-common Georgian-Regency-Victorian era of England. Rather they take place in during the Medieval Era or Renaissance. Or they are set in other times in nations like Spain, France, Russia, or the United States.
I enjoy Civil War romances in the American South and Napoleonic Era romances based in France with French protagonists. Those stories are so rare, and when they’re good, they’re excellent.
I suppose my tastes are an anomaly in this genre, and that’s why I read mostly older works.
Louisa Rawlings’ Stranger in My Arms is, for me, the culmination of a romance novel. I have never read one that I enjoyed more on a deep, emotional level.
Both the hero and heroine change and grow as they suffer and cope with loss. Adam and Charmiane learn to adapt to the new world around them and, in doing so, learn to love each other anew.
This isn’t an easy love; it’s a larger-than-life love set in the epic time of the great Napoleon Bonaparte, a man who could lead his men to the ends of the earth, despite his hubris and tragic downfall.
Final Analysis of Stranger in My Arms
Louisa Rawlings wrote a few books, and each one that I have read so far is wonderful. Stolen Spring is another of her fantastic books that I’ve reviewed. Ms. Rawlings, aka Ena Halliday, aka Sylvia Halliday, please write more! Your talents should be more widely known and revered!
There is a sequel to Stranger in My Arms, Wicked Stranger. While not as thrilling and emotional, it still features a great hero, the flip side to Adam’s melancholy and reserve.
Although Stranger in My Arms is a bit on the short side, this is the best romance novel, historical or otherwise, that I’ve ever read. I have re-read this book easily a dozen times in thirty years and am always stirred by its intensity.
I adore Adam and Charmiane’s beautiful affirmation of love:
He lifted his head and at last grinned down at her. “Now,” he said, “who am I?”
“She gazed into eyes that held love and joy and laughter. The laughter that had always been in him—only needing her to bring it out.
“Oh, my dearest,” she answered, her heart swelling with wonder and gratitude for the beautiful man who bent above her. “You’re Love.”
Stranger in My Arms is breathtaking.
Rating Report Card
A SPLENDID PASSION …
He was every girl’s romantic dream: the handsome, brooding hero that Charmiane de Viollet had longed for, the man who would sweep her away from the endless tedium of life among the impoverished aristocrats who had lost their fortunes in the shadow of the guillotine. He was Adam Bouchard, Baron Montcalvo, a colonel in the cavalry, a favorite of Emperor Napoleon’s. In one reckless night of passion, Charmiane gave herself to him, body and soul.
But morning’s harsh light can dull even the brightest dream. When the night was over, would Charmiane wake to find …
Hearts of Fire by Anita Mills is a great medieval romance that fell a bit short of being flawless.
This book is a more satisfying sequel to the first installment of Mills’ medieval romance series, Lady of Fire, than its second outing, Fire and Steel, was.
A Fitting Sequel to a Masterpiece Romance
Fire and Steel saw Catherine de Brione, the beloved daughter of Lady of Fire‘s Roger and Eleonor, find love with Guy of Rivaux.
Guy was the pure-hearted bastard son of the demonic Robert of Bellesme. Bellesme was the unforgettable charismatic villain of the first two books who had an obsessive but somehow noble love for Eleonor. Bellesme stole the show in those novels, so magnetic was his character.
In Hearts of Fire, the male protagonist is Richard of Rivaux, grandson of Robert Bellesme and his beloved Eleonor. Richard is a fascinating and complicated hero. He has his grandfather’s darkness but is not consumed totally by evil. He kills for his woman, yet he’s a tender lover. In another book, Richard could have been a villain. In this story, he’s the hero, and a wonderful one at that. His multi-faceted personality makes Richard almost as intriguing as his grandfather.
Gilliane de Lacey is orphaned, and her brother is dead. When Richard’s forces surround Gillaine’s home, she thinks it’s a siege and does what she can to defend her fortress home. To her shock, it is not an enemy but a friend of her brother who has arrived. An enraged Richard is prepared to butt heads with the fool who ordered the attack. Then he finds himself confronted with the beautiful Gilliane. His world is torn asunder.
Richard is from a wealthy, powerful family. Although he bristles under his father’s authority, he is duty-bound to wed a noblewoman with whom his father has arranged a marriage. Gilliane, as the mere sister to a simple knight, is part of the vassal class. Despite their obstacles, Gilliane and Richard are drawn together and cannot deny their love.
The Few Flaws
The forbidden romance between Richard and Gilliane de Lacey is stellar… When they’re together, that is.
I would have given this book 5 stars if not for the long separation when the heroine is married to some beast of a man who rapes and abuses her. It added nothing to the story. I can see that Mills was trying to parallel Lady of Fire with this plot, as in that tale, the heroine was captured and violated by the villain.
But it doesn’t work here, as Robert Bellesme was such an integral part of Lady of Fire. Meanwhile, the abusive other man is relatively unimportant to the overall picture. The long section when Gilliane was paired off with him seemed like filler for this 431-paged book.
Final Analysis of Hearts of Fire
The moments when Hearts of Fire shines are when Richard is around. He is Bellesme, with none of the baby-killing, mother-fucking, or father-killing baggage.
I loved Bellesme in Lady of Fire. Despite his thoroughly wicked behavior, he was complex and charismatic. I wished Robert could have had a bit of happiness and love.
Through his grandson Richard and Richard’s epic romance with a woman beneath his class, this achievement is fulfilled. Anita Mills is such a riveting author, I can’t wait to finish this series.
Rating Report Card
Gilliane de Lacey’s pride is as fiery as her hair. In the face of a command from the King of England himself, she refused to wed a lord she despises. The one man she does want, Richard of Rivaux, is honor-bound to wed another, even though his passion for her has become a burning need.
Defying death to rescue Gilliane from the royal wrath, Richard draws his love into the perilous swirl of conflict between England and Normandy. Against this dramatic backdrop, Gilliane and Richard know that nothing will ever stop them from risking it all for love, and giving all to desire.
Anita Mills‘ Lady of Fire is one of my most beloved historical romance novels. This gripping medical epic took me places I never knew I could go.
I admit it has some flaws, especially toward the end. Even so, I adore it.
Lady of Fire takes place in Normandy, not long after William the Bastard has conquered England. Eleonor of Nantes is a renowned beauty, hungered by many, and bartered as a political pawn. William’s son Henry desires her as his wife, but it’s the man she believes to be her half-brother, Roger Fitz Hugh, for whom she’s destined.
Roger knows Eleonor is not his sister and has always loved her. Eleonor doesn’t know, yet she desires Roger. This fact may be off-putting to some. But, knowing from the outset that they’re not siblings, it was easy for me to overlook this semi-incest.
Eleonor is sent off to a nunnery as part of her mother’s dying wish. But rather than take her vows, she finds herself betrothed to a man she despises. Roger will do what he must to make sure the marriage doesn’t take place. It’s a race against time to see who gets to her first.
For complete disclosure, let it be known that I love blond heroes like Roger. I married one in real life and adore them in fiction. Roger is one of the sweetest, kindest, most loving male protagonists I’ve ever read. His devotion to Eleonor is undeniable, and he and Eleonor are meant to be.
However… He is not the main reason that I’m crazy about this book.
“I Roger…do swear on this sacred relic that I will be Eleonore of Nantes’ man, to champion her causes and give her her justice, yea, even to the end of my life.”
The Charismatic, Wicked Villain
The villain Robert Talvas, Count of Bellesme, with his black hair, green eyes, and evil, evil disposition, positively steals the show in Lady of Fire. He is so hot that every scene with him singes the pages of this book.
Robert is absolutely malevolent and beyond redemption. He coolly lies to priests and nuns, sleeps with his mother, rapes without remorse, and murders innocents.
In the sequel Fire and Steel, Robert is so evil he tears a baby out of his own mother’s womb, killing both!
Utterly irredeemable, Robert is the devil incarnate and is based on a medieval legend.
There is more to Robert, though, whose obsession with the lady Eleonor drives the plot. His unwavering love and reverence for her are spell-binding and captivating. In a bodice ripper written ten years earlier, Robert might have even been the hero.
Disturbingly, despite the fact that he kidnaps and ravishes Eleonor, I found myself hoping, “I know you love Roger, but Eleonor, just once submit to Robert!”
That’s reallysick, but that’s what Bellesme’s character made me feel. He was like a hypnotic vampire or incubus, a Lucifer fallen. However, Eleonor never gives in, and I think that is one reason why the dark Lord Robert adores Eleonor so much. She has purity and goodness.
I am so glad Anita Mills never redeemed him nor gave him a sequel to find love with another woman. In his heart, Robert was eternally faithful to Eleonore.
Robert does find a sort of salvation in the sequel,Fire and Steel, which is entertaining, if not as enjoyable, read. The third book in the series, Hearts of Fire, the story of Eleonor and Robert’s grandson, is an even better follow-up.
Final Analysis of Lady of Fire
Lady of Fire is one of my most-loved romances in a sub-genre–medievals–that consist of many of my favorites. It skirts the rules of romance while being faithful to them. For a writer to allow the villain to overshadow the protagonists may be a source of frustration to some readers. Anita Mills does it so skillfully that I fell for it from the opening chapters.
Alas, to Robert’s great unfortunate downfall, Eleonor and Roger are destined for each other, and that’s the way it should be.
Lady of Fire is not only a fantastic medieval romance or even just a fantastic romance. It’s a phenomenal book all around.
Rating Report Card
In 11th century Normany, a passionate story of romance, chivalry, and forbidden love. Beautiful Eleanor of Nantes is pursued by many great noblemen, including the evil Robert of Belesme and charming Prince Henry, son of William the Conqueror. But it is the dashing Roger FitzGilbert, born a bastard with no title to his name, who sweeps her off her feet. Their love may be forbidden, but their passion is undeniable…
Runaway Bride by Rosalyn Alsobrook left a bad taste in my mouth. While I enjoyed many of the old Zebra Lovegram and Heartfire lines, what I disliked about some of them is that when they were bad, they were awful. Either they were boring or just freaking bizarre.
Rosalyn Alsobrook’s Runaway Bride was about Katherine, a pregnant woman who left her drunk, abusive husband. She’s on her own in the wilderness when the hero, Jason, comes upon her naked in a water pond. Jason, a rancher, takes her in and helps her heal. Katherine eventually finds love with this new man, who is a fundamentally decent guy and is even willing to be a father to her child.
Katherine’s abusive husband finds her and begs for forgiveness. I didn’t care how sorry he was. In my eyes, the husband could never redeem himself. He beat her so awfully while she was pregnant that was black and blue and forced her to flee in fear for her life and her child’s safety.
The book was written to keep you guessing up until the end who she would choose. The heroine genuinely thought that besides beating the hell out of her, her husband was a good man. And maybe at one point in his life, he was, but he let major demons take over, and he ruined that goodness. Fortunately, the heroine ended up with Jason, but the fact that this book even tried to pull a love triangle plot was disgusting. Katherine should have had nothing but hatred for her husband.
And at the final pages of the story, do we see the happiness that Katherine and Jason should have had? Well, sure, they lived a long married life together, but the epilogue was bizarre and floored me. The son of Katherine and her first husband stands at his father’s grave, weeping for him, and pretty much says, “No matter what happened, Dad, you were a great man, and I’m sorry I never got to know how wonderful you were.”
Final Analysis of Runaway Bride
Look, I’m no pearl-clutcher when it comes to controversial issues. I love un-PC bodice rippers. I can deal with a lot of craziness and don’t take offense too much (except boredom). Having a heroine who was in love with her drunk husband who mercilessly beat her was a very difficult pill to swallow. I don’t think Rosalyn Alsobrook handled the topic well.
I remember feeling sick after reading this, and that was 30 years ago. The feeling stays with me to this day when I think about Runaway Wife.
It’s a wonderful gem. Don’t believe me? Just read the seal of approval by historical fiction/romance legend Roberta Gellis on the cover.
Terms of Surrender takes place during the post-French Revolution/Napoleonic Era, one of my favorite time periods.
A beautiful Frenchwoman, Julie, is married to an impotent, elderly man who desperately wants an heir.
The husband hires an Englishman to seduce her and impregnate her. Sebastian Ramlin does just that, but not before falling in love.
He pursues a love he knows is impossible. However, he just can’t stay away from Julie!
Although in the end, he must leave her. There is a long separation of twenty years.
The lovers will reunite, but the stakes have changed. Can they make it work?
Towards the latter part of Terms of Surrender, something happens, which shocked me because it was so unusual in the tame romances I read. It was a very unexpected moment in a Harlequin, historical or otherwise.
Napoleon plays a big part in the book, too, so that’s a major plus for me. There’s a twist involving him at the end. I bet you won’t expect what it is!
Final Analysis of Terms of Surrender
If you can get your hands on Mollie Ashton’s Terms of Surrender, do it.
It’s an emotional roller-coaster and quite a little treasure!
Rating Report Card
Lover…or Deceiver? Julie Farroux had escaped the guillotine by marrying a withered old man who desired her only for her inheritance. Their loveless union had left her believing her heart was as shriveled as his, until she found the warmth of desire in the arms of a handsome stranger. In the glittering city that was Napoleon’s Paris, deception and greed were a way of life.
Sebastian Ramlin had made a devil’s bargain with Julie’s husband … to seduce Julie — and give her husband an heir. But he never planned to fall in love with her. Could he find the courage to reveal his treachery … and risk losing the woman he loved?
As usual, the folks at Zebra were just slapping generic titles onto these books! Only a tiny portion of Veronica Blake’s Texas Princess takes place in Texas. The hero and heroine travel across the western US, and they only get to the Lonestar State at the tail end of the book.
My main recollection of this tepid romance is while reading, I kept wondering: “When do they get to Texas? The book’s almost over. What about Texas?” Not a good sign. The editors could have gone with something like Gypsy Princess (although perhaps in today’s environment, that would be seen as insensitive), Emerald Princess, or Forbidden Passions. I checked & no other romance novels had those titles.
As for the book itself?
Sad to say that Texas Princess was a forgettable Heartfire. Tasmin, the eponymous Texas princess who is not actually royalty from America’s 28th state, is betrothed to the leader of her Roma tribe. He’s a kind and handsome man. However, she falls for a gadjo cowboy drifter, Blayde (I think that was his name) instead.
He watches her intently as she dances by a fire. Tasmin feels Blayde’s gaze upon her. She is drawn to this strange man, even though it spells her damnation.
Because of her forbidden passion, Tasmin is banished from all that is familiar to her. The hero has his inner demons to battle and isn’t looking for commitment. Destiny ties them together as he and Tasmin trek through the West. Tasmin & Blayde only have each other for support, yet can these two people from differing backgrounds make true love work?
Not for nothing, but this is a standard romance novel, so what else do you think is going to happen?
Final Analysis of Texas Princess
Dull, dull book. I love Zebra romances in general, but on an individual level, a lot of them were unremarkable. I’ll give this one an extra half star because I like the cover.