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hearts of fire gulbronson

Historical Romance Review: Hearts of Fire by Anita Mills

historical romance review
Hearts of Fire by Anita Mills
Rating: four-stars
Published: 1986
Illustrator: Gregg Gulbronson
Book Series: Medieval Fire Series #3
Published by: Onyx
Genres: Historical Romance, Bodice Ripper, Medieval Romance
Pages: 432
Format: Audiobook, Paperback
Buy on: AmazonThriftBooks
Reviewed by: Introvert Reader


Historical Romance Review: Hearts of Fire by Anita Mills

CONTENT & SPOILER ALERT ⚠

The Book

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.

Forbidden Love

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.

4 Stars

Rating Report Card
Plot
4
Characters
4.5
Writing
4.5
Chemistry
4
Fun Factor
4
Cover
4.5
Overall: 4.3

Synopsis

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.

Hearts of Fire by Anita Mills
blood red roses

Historical Romance Review: Blood Red Roses by Katherine Deauxville

historical romance review
Blood Red Roses by Katherine Deauxville
Rating: five-stars
Published: 1991
Illustrator: Leslie Pellegrino-Peck
Book Series: Medieval Series #1
Genres: Historical Romance, Bodice Ripper, Medieval Romance
Pages: 320
Format: eBook, Paperback
Buy on: Amazon

Historical Romance Review: Blood Red Roses by Katherine Deauxville

SPOILER ALERT ⚠

“[At worst] yon Welshman has one dangling nut.”

BLOOD RED ROSES by Katherine Deauxville

The Book

Blood Red Roses is, understandably, a difficult book for some readers to enjoy. However, it stands as one of my most-loved medieval romances.

It could be nostalgia goggles on this one for me, plus a love for the glorious red stepback cover. Or it could be the vivid Middle Ages setting, my favorite time period. Or it could be that this book is really a wonderful piece of romantic fiction, styled to appeal to a niche audience.

I read this Medieval romance by Katherine Deauxville (aka Maggie Davis) twice. Once in middle school and then years later in high school. The story swept me away both times.

The Plot

Alwyn, the Heroine

Alwyn, the heroine of Blood Red Roses, is 28 years old. That is practically ancient for her time period for her to be unmarried. She’s a seemingly wild Welsh woman forced to be a prize in marriage to the Norman knight, Fulk de Joburg, as she’s heiress to her dead father’s lands.

They spend a passionate night together before Fulk is off again to fight for King William.

It rang true to me that a woman would be forcefully bonded to her enemy. It seemed authentic that her husband, being a man of war and conquest, would go off to fight while she lived in her castle, awaiting his return.

Blood Red Roses
Blood Red Roses, Katherine Deauxville, St Martin’s Press, 1991, cover artist Leslie Pellegrino-Peck

Fulk, the Hero

What initially drives Fulk is simple. He won lands in conquest and to help solidify the bonds of conquest, he must marry the daughter of the former lord of said lands. What drives Alwyn is simpler: hate towards her enemy and a desire to be free.

Fulk and Alwyn don’t spend much time together, they’re not deep on intimate conversations either. Their times together are passionate and forceful.

My liking for Blood Red Roses could be because I love the brutal incivility of the Middle Age era. Deauxville injects an earthy historical ambiance that I really appreciate. What is the point of historical romance without history?

There’s a scene where Fulk and his men torture a man and semi-castrate him before he flees. Fulk comments that it could have been worse: “At worst yon Welshman has one dangling nut.” Another scene depicts Fulk and his men as they stare at a woman with hairless pudenda.

The Medieval Setting of Blood Red Roses

The genital references seem to be a theme in the Deauxville Medieval series. There is a dwarf with a giant dong in the second book, Daggers of Gold, which also has lots of talk about circumcised penises (the hero is Jewish). The third, The Amethyst Crown, features more references to dwarves, foreskin, castrations, and shorn vulvas.

Blood Red Roses has middling ratings on some review sites, yet here I am praising it. I often have a contrarian opinion on certain books due to my personally peculiar tastes.

The red-haired hero is extremely cold and distant.

While Fulk is away, Alwyn has an emotional romance with a blond Scottish mason she fantasizes about and kisses.

Later is taken captive by Powys, a black-haired Welsh lord from the hills. The latter was foretold to Alwyn by a fortune-teller who told her to choose Powys as her man.

Then, there is Fulk’s cousin Geoffrey who seems to have designs on Alwyn himself.

Final Analysis of Blood Red Roses

Fulk and Alwyn have a lust-based relationship, one not based on trust or communication. Is it a love story for the ages? Probably not, but I enjoyed the atmosphere and the authenticity of the time period. Blood Red Roses is a Historical romance with a capital H on the history.

Fulk is no reformed kind-hearted hero at the end, and Alwyn will always be a disagreeable shrew. Still, I can’t give this book a lower than “I love it” rating, because frankly, I did.

Perhaps it’s a matter of temporal tastes, as back in 1991 when Blood Red Roses was released, it was fairly successful, winning the Romantic Times Reviewers Choice Award for Best Medieval Romance.

5 Stars


Synopsis:

IN A LAND DIVIDED BY TREACHERY AND ENDLESS WARRING, THEY SHARED A PASSION THAT KNEW NO BOUNDS

When King William’s knight, Fulk de Jobourg, is sent to reclaim the lands of a hanged traitor, he is also commanded to take the man’s unwilling daughter as his wife. Bound and gagged, the furious Lady Alwyn is wedded to this dark-eyed, massive man who spends but one night in her bed before galloping off to fight the king’s battles once more.

Left behind to tend to the Castle Morlaix, Alwyn cannot bring to mind the face of the husband she barely knows. But her body remembers the feel of his hot touch…and the urgent passion he ignited within her. When Fulk returns, Alwyn fights his efforts to take control of her family’s estate. But she cannot resist what he brings to her at night…a sensual pleasure that binds her to him forever against her will…

BLOOD RED ROSES by KATHERINE DEAUXVILLE
firs of winter gellis

Historical Romance Review: Fires of Winter by Roberta Gellis

historical romance review
Fires of Winter by Roberta Gellis
Rating: three-stars
Published: 1987
Illustrator: Pino
Book Series: Tales of Jernaeve #2
Published by: Jove
Genres: Historical Romance, Medieval Romance
Pages: 487
Format: Paperback
Buy on: AmazonAbeBooks
Reviewed by: Introvert Reader


Historical Romance Review: Fires of Winter by Roberta Gellis

MILD SPOILERS 😉

The Book

Told through alternating first-person perspectives, Roberta Gellis‘s medieval romance Fires of Winter starts with a bang.

The Plot

In the first chapter, we experience the hero, Bruno, of Jernaeve’s life as his castle gets invaded.

As an illegitimate child, he is overlooked and left uncared for. He and his sister must hide from the marauders.

Later, it switches to the heroine Mellusine of Ulle’s more calm point of view as a child.

I enjoyed the different perspectives, although I found Bruno’s side more interesting than Mellusine’s.

As Bruno matures, he becomes a master in the arts of war. His success earns him Melusine, a “spoil of war,” for Bruno to wed. Bruno is loyal to King Stephen, and Melusine threatens the king.

Despite their differences, Mellusine and Bruno forge a strong relationship built on sexual attraction, companionship, and trust.

Earthy Medieval Realism

I loved the authentic earthiness Gellis imbued her works with. I don’t think I’ve ever read a romance where the heroine has to take a dump before. Here Melusine squats away without a care in front of the hero.

The love scenes between Bruno and Melusine had Gellis’ trademark frankness. There’s a scene where a third party in their relationship makes an appearance. 

“I do not pretend that I do not desire you, Melusine…But you need not fear I will force you either. I am the master of Monsieur Jehan de la Tete Rouge–” I tapped the redhead that had pushed its way through the foreskin so she could not mistake of what I spoke, “–not he of me.'”

That had me giggling.

Historical Fiction, Not Romance

At 60% through the book, the romance is firmly cemented. Alas, here, the adventures become strictly political. At a certain point, Fires of Winter ceased to be historical romantic fiction and became purely historical.

Bruno spends much of his time away fighting for his king, while Mellusine tends to courtly and domestic affairs.

Lady Mellusine and Queen Matilda rally an army to rescue their husbands. They succeed, displaying that if need be, powerful medieval women were up to the task of warfare just as their men were.

The tale concludes happily with Mellusine and Bruno making babies and farming their lands.

Final Analysis of Fires of Winter

Fires of Winter is heavy on detailed history. Gellis is a master storyteller, at least when she remembers to tell the story instead of reciting history.

However, I felt a tad underwhelmed, despite the fine quality of the writing. A great start fizzled out to a merely satisfactory read.

I would have preferred more lines like:

“I had a long row to hoe before I could plunge my spade into Mellusine’s earth and plant a seed there.”

…Than the endless parade of dates of conquests and battles.

I’ve enjoyed several of Roberta Gellis’s works, knowing that she is heavy on history and it was never a negative aspect. There was a wonderful romance during the first half of Fires of Winter. Gellis forgot about the love story on the back end.

I would recommend this piece of historical fiction for lovers of medieval romances that emphasize the medieval aspect, not necessarily the romance.

3.24 Stars

Rating Report Card
Plot
3.5
Characters
3.5
Writing
3.5
Chemistry
4
Fun Factor
3
Cover
3.5
Overall: 3.5

Synopsis

A sparkling prize, the beautiful Mellusine of Ulle is awarded to the bastard-born Bruno of Jernaeve as a spoil of war. Bruno vows to tame the rebellious spirit of the captive beauty, but ultimately surrenders to her charms. Born of different worlds, joined in the flames of passion and intrigue, they find new strength in each other’s arms…and a burning love that defies all eternity.”

Fires of Winter by Roberta Gellis
uncommon vows

Historical Romance Review: Uncommon Vows by Mary Jo Putney

Synopsis:

Lady Meriel de Vere had deceived Adrian, Earl of Shropshire. Standing in the royal forest, her falcon perched on her arm, she boldly claimed to be a Welsh commoner, not a noble Norman. Lord Adrian beheld in wonder her raven-black hair and defiant blue eyes, heard her lies, and felt a dark, primeval passion rob him of all reason.

In one irrevocable move of fate, he ordered this fair beauty locked in his castle’s tower, vowing to entice her into surrendering her kisses with lips as hungry as his own. Never to give in, to die if she must, was Meriel’s vow … until one rash moment of impetuousness swept them both up in the royal battles of kings … and into a dangerous intrigue of sweet caresses … and fiery, all-consuming love. 

UNCOMMON VOWS by MARY JO PUTNEY

VERY MILD SPOILERS 😉

The Book

I’ve read Mary Jo Putney‘s Uncommon Vows several times and have always enjoyed the compelling romance. It’s a passionate medieval bodice ripper about obsessive love.

The Plot

Lord Adrian was set for a life of priesthood when a family death changes his destiny. Lady Meriel seemed fated for a life in a nunnery. But twists and turns made it, so neither of these things came to pass. Instead, Adrian becomes the Earl of Shropshire and Meriel renounces her calling to live under the protection of her brother, a knight.

One day Adrian comes upon Meriel in a field and believes her to be a commoner. Adrian becomes fixated on Meriel’s stunning beauty. He takes her captive. Meriel, who is half-Welsh, deeply values her freedom and cannot understand how Adrian supposedly loves her if he keeps her prisoner.

She refuses Adrian’s attempts to seduce her so forcefully. Meriel throws herself out a stained-glass window, causing her to lose her memory.

Without all the baggage hanging on, Adrian is able to woo Muriel into loving him. But will her feelings remain the same when her memory returns?

When writing about the Medieval Era, many authors avoid religion. They treat it as a third rail topic. Here, in Uncommon Vows, it’s used uniquely and romantically. Adrian and Muriel cite phrases from the Bible–the Song of Solomon–to each other during their lovemaking. It works beautifully and poetically to enhance this thrilling love story.

Final Analysis of Uncommon Vows

Uncommon Vows is a fantastic battle of wills between a hero who is obsessed with the heroine and will do anything to have her and a heroine who refuses to submit to her enemy. Putney’s writing is at her best here, although maybe it’s because she so often borrows from one of the most poetic books ever written!

PS: I wish Mary Jo Putney had written a sequel about Adrian’s illegitimate brother. Does anyone know if she ever did?

5 Stars

Lovespell

Historical Romance Review: Lovespell by Deana James

historical romance review
Lovespell by Deana James
Rating: four-half-stars
Published: 1984
Illustrator: Pino
Imprint or Line: Zebra Historical Romance
Published by: Kensington
Genres: Historical Romance, Medieval Romance
Pages: 558
Format: Paperback
Buy on: Amazon
Reviewed by: Introvert Reader


Historical Romance Review: Lovespell by Deana James

SPOILER ALERT ⚠

The Book

Lovespell is yet another great romance by the eclectic Deana James, who wrote wonderful, complex novels like Captive Angel. This medieval romance is as epic as any of her westerns.

The Plot

Gillian is an English fletcher who poses as twins, the male Gil & female Gillian. A Norman knight named Brian is badly beaten and his armor has been stolen by an errant squire. He is rescued by Gil who cares for him and helps him heal. Brian is a man often too proud for his own good. His honor demands he must pay recompense to Gil for saving his life so he helps him/her make arrows. To satisfy his life debt, Brian must help Gillian bring the arrows to arm the English, the enemies of his people.

In due time Brian figures out Gil’s true identity. He falls for her, as she does for him. This is just the beginning of their love story.

There are many misadventures along the way, as a cast of multi-faceted secondary characters soon takes the stage, adding more drama, romance, and tragic elements to this story. The man who stole Brian’s knight returns, and he’s not quite the evil character Brian first thought he was. That character’s doomed love affair with a noblewoman is exquisitely portrayed, and its conclusion might bring you to tears, as it did for me.

Causing trouble for Gillian and Brian is a multi-faceted gay quasi-villain, Ranulf, who desires Gil, the boy. He beats Brian and captures Gil. In a tense scene, Ranulf attempts to rape her but is so excited he finishes prematurely. Then he is furious to discover he’s a girl!

Oddly enough, after that, Gil & Ranulf establish a friendship of sorts as they march through battle together. In the end, it’s strongly hinted Ranulf loves both versions of Gil/Gillian.

The Hero

Nevertheless, it’s Brian who is the very intense love of Gillian’s life.

Brian is a conflicted character, a knight in a time when the methods of war were changing. His position and that of others like him were being made redundant through stronger firepower. With the advancement of weaponry, men were fighting at more long-distance ranges. Thus the dependence on utilizing knights on horseback who engaged in sword-to-sword sword combat was lessened.

It was an age where the commoner began obtaining financial power. Men such as Brian, who made their fortunes via the sword, were seeing their time come to an end.

Brian must question who he is as the world around him transforms into something he doesn’t recognize, and he becomes disillusioned. In the end, the hero gives up his knighthood to stay with his beloved, a lower-class arrow-maker who will, on occasion, still pose as a man.

Final Analysis of Lovespell

Lovespell is a great medieval romance. It’s an unconventional and deeply passionate book. Filled with surprises, twists, and turns, it kept me up late at night to read just one more page. Good stuff.

Deana James has yet to disappoint me. I know she (Mona Sizer) has authored mostly nonfiction westerns under her real name in the latter years of her writing career. I only wish she had written more romances.

4.59 Stars


Synopsis:

With a tunic draping her sensuous figure and a cap hiding her wheat-gold hair, no one guessed that the boy Gil was really the voluptuous Gillian. Only men could belong to craftsmen’s guilds, and as the best bowmaker in all of England, the beautiful girl never minded the disguise…until she saw Sir Brian. The handsome knight’s hazel eyes and masterful body smote her to her very core – and for the first time in her life, Gillian longed to risk her career for just a moment of passion’s sweet fury!

When Brian de Trenanay discovered the gorgeous maiden beneath the coarse, mannish garments, he knew he had to brand her as his own. Even though she was an enemy Englishwoman, she had pierced the French man of war to the heart. His senses enflamed, Brian decided there would be time enough for fighting on the morrow. Tonight he would surrender his strength to the power of ecstasy and submit to the irresistible force of her Lovespell

LOVESPELL by DEANA JAMES