Tag: Medieval England

Historical Romance Review: The Lord of Hawkfell Island by Catherine Coulter

the lord of hawkfell island
The Lord of Hawkfell Island, Catherine Coulter, Jove, 1993

WARNING: CONTENT AND MILD SPOILER ALERT ⚠

2 1/2 Stars

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

Reviewed by Introvert Reader

The Plot

Catherine Coulter takes her propensity to create unlikeable heroes and dials it all the way up to “11” in her supposed romance, The Lord of Hawkfell Island.

Mirana is a young, unmarried woman who lives with her brother in a fortress in Ireland. When he’s away, their home is attacked by Viking raiders seeking vengeance against him, as the Viking leader Rorik blames him for the death of his wife and child. Usually, a hero grieving over his lost love is grounds for me to dislike a historical romance, but thanks to Rurik, I had plenty of other reasons to despise this “love story.”

I shouldn’t even call this a love story because–let’s get this right out the gate–Rorik never says a single word of love to Mirana. And it’s not because he’s so filled with sorrow over his loss. He’s just an unfeeling, cruel, petty, boorish boar. I detested him so much I created a Goodreads shelf labeled “jerky pig hall of fame” for him and his porcine brethren.... Read more “Historical Romance Review: The Lord of Hawkfell Island by Catherine Coulter”

Historical Romance Review: Hearts of Fire by Anita Mills

hearts of fire gregg
Hearts of Fire, Anita Mills, Onyx, 1989 Gregg Gulbronson cover art

CONTENT & SPOILER ALERT ⚠

4 Stars

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Reviewed by Introvert Reader

A Fitting Sequel to a Masterpiece Romance

Hearts of Fire is a more satisfying sequel to the first installment of Anita Mills‘ medieval romance series, Lady of Fire, than its second outing, Fire and Steel was. 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.... Read more “Historical Romance Review: Hearts of Fire by Anita Mills”

Historical Romance Review: An Offer of Marriage by Jo Ann Ferguson Review

An Offer of Marriage
An Offer of Marriage, Jo Ann Ferguson, Zebra, 1999, cover artist unknown, John Desaalvo cover model

WARNING: RANT ALERT ⚠

1 star

Rating: 1 out of 5.

Goodbye Old Era, Hello New

Books like Jo Ann Ferguson’s An Offer of Marriage suffer from being published during a time of change. When Kensington’s Zebra historical romances died, they didn’t go quickly (actually, Zebras are still around, but they’re not the same as they used to be in the 1980s and 1990s). Before their Heartfire and Lovegram lines ended in the late 1990s, the iconic, colorful covers became dull mockeries of the past, with no lush illustrations, just cheaply photo-shopped images of flowers or castles. In many cases, the covers were nothing more than the title and author’s name.

Zebra dumped most of their best authors (some briefly moved on to Dorchester, which had their own problems) and churned out new lines like Zebra Ballad, Splendor, and Precious Gem Historicals, all of which folded quickly. An Offer of Marriage is a romance from his era.

The Plot?

Young Brenwyn Gunnarsson’s family is slaughtered and he vows revenge. He poses as a lowly freeman to deceive the English and aid the Viking invasion.... Read more “Historical Romance Review: An Offer of Marriage by Jo Ann Ferguson Review”

Historical Romance Review: Siren Song by Roberta Gellis

Siren Song
Siren Song, Roberta Gellis, Playboy Press, 1980, cover artist TBD

4 Stars

Rating: 4 out of 5.

The first book in Roberta Gellis’s Medieval Song trilogy, Siren Song, takes us to 13th century England.

Lady Elizabeth

Lady Elizabeth is not a beauty, but she is intelligent, capable, and now heiress to vast lands, with her brothers and father recently deceased. Elizabeth is married to Mauger, a cruel, murderous lord who wishes for nothing more than to aggrandize himself by whatever means necessary. Mauger has the looks of an angel yet the disposition of a demon. There is no deed too vile for him, as he eagerly breaks every Commandment. It is no mere coincidence that Elizabeth’s brothers conveniently died, leaving her, and thus Mauger, quite wealthy.

Years ago, Elizabeth had been in love with Sir William of Marlowe, and he with her. But parental manipulations led to them being forced to wed others. Now, William is a widower with a daughter of soon-to-be marriageable age.

Mauger has eyes on Marlowe and seeks to wed his and Elizabeth’s eldest son, Aubrey, to William’s daughter, Alys. Once the two are married, Mauger has plans for William’s untimely demise.... Read more “Historical Romance Review: Siren Song by Roberta Gellis”

Historical Romance Review: Fires of Winter by Roberta Gellis

firs of winter gellis
Fires of Winter, Roberta Gellis, Jove Books, 1987, Pino cover art

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

FIRES OF WINTER

3 Stars

Rating: 3 out of 5.

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

The Plot

In the first chapter, we experience young 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 on, it switches to heroine Mellusine of Ulle’s more placid point of view as a child. Although I enjoyed the different perspectives, 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, as a “spoil of war,” for Bruno to wed. Despite their differences, Mellusine and Bruno forge a strong relationship built on sexual attraction, companionship, and trust.

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.... Read more “Historical Romance Review: Fires of Winter by Roberta Gellis”

Historical Romance Review: Uncommon Vows by Mary Jo Putney

medieval castle room with stone benches near window
Uncommon Vows,, Mary Jo Putney, Onyx, 1991
Uncommon Vows, Mary Jo Putney, Onyx, 1991, cover artist unknown

“I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine.”

UNCOMMON VOWS

5 stars

Rating: 5 out of 5.

I’ve read Mary Jo Putney’s Uncommon Vows several times and have always loved this passionate medieval story 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 so fixated with 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 virulently, she 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.... Read more “Historical Romance Review: Uncommon Vows by Mary Jo Putney”

Historical Romance Review: Lovespell by Deana James

black steel helmet near black and gray handle sword
Lovespell, Deana James, Zebra, 1984, Pino cover art

4 1/2 stars

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

*** Spoiler alert ***

Lovespell is yet another great romance by the eclectic Deana James, who wrote wonderful, complex novels like Captive Angel.

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.... Read more “Historical Romance Review: Lovespell by Deana James”

Historical Romance Review: Lady of Fire by Anita Mills

lady of fire
Lady of Fire, Anita Mills, Onyx, 1987, Gregg Gulbronson cover art

SPOILER ALERT

5 Stars

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Anita Mills’ Lady of Fire is one of my most beloved historical romance novels. I fully admit that it has its flaws, especially toward the end; even so, I adore it.

“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.”

LADY OF FIRE

The Plot

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.

For complete disclosure, let it be known that I love blond heroes.... Read more “Historical Romance Review: Lady of Fire by Anita Mills”

Historical Romance Review: Winter’s Heat by Denise Domning

Winter’s Heat, Denise Domning, Topaz, 1993, John Ennis cover art

“It may be that you will find my manner too straightforward for your tastes, but, my lord, it is just that – my manner. Would that I die before I give up that part of me.”

WINTER’S HEAT
2 1/2 stars

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

A medieval romance that takes medieval life seriously is usually one I enjoy, but Denise Domning’s Winter’s Heat fell a bit flat for me.

Rowena is forced into marriage with Lord Rannulf of Graistan. After a quick consummation, Rannulf leaves Rowena at his castle to deal with his surly servants, evil sister-in-law, Maeve, and his young son.

After more than 30% into the book, I realized that the hero was nowhere to be found, and I was ok with that. I enjoyed reading about Rowena’s attempts to turn Rannulf’s pigsty into a livable home.

Unfortunately once Rannulf re-enters the picture, the book doesn’t get better. Rannulf mistrusts his capable wife and only believes Maeve’s ridiculous lies. This book reminded me of the worst of the worst of Johanna Lindsey’s romances, with the hero and heroine bickering for no real reason, refusing to engage in basic communication, and making lots of love even though they hate each other.... Read more “Historical Romance Review: Winter’s Heat by Denise Domning”

Historical Romance Review: To Touch the Sun by Barbara Leigh

To Touch the Sun, Barbara Leigh, Harlequin, 1991, Judy York cover art

Harlequin Historical #98

From the back of the book:

Beloved Captive…To be a knight, chivalrous in deed and courageous in battle, was all that Drue had ever wished for. Dubbed Sir Drue, she had sworn to serve her king and seek revenge against her enemy, Connaught. She had vowed to slay the treacherous knight, yet one look into the depths of his fire-blue eyes and she knew she could never kill him… Though she had captured him fairly on the field of battle, it was Drue who was completely in his power, and she shuddered to think what the proud Connaught would do when he discovered that the ‘lad’ who had defeated him was nothing more than a woman.

4 stars

Rating: 4 out of 5.

***Spoiler alert***

To Touch the Sun is an older Harlequin Historical by Barbara Leigh. This is the unique tale about a woman in Medieval England who is raised alongside her brother as a boy and eventually becomes a knight. Not just any knight, but one of the most virtuous, valiant, and admired knights in the kingdom.

The Plot

Druanna takes on the persona of Dru to such a great extent that even her brother almost forgets her true identity.... Read more “Historical Romance Review: To Touch the Sun by Barbara Leigh”

Historical Romance Review: Defy Not the Heart by Johanna Lindsey

Defy Not the Heart, Johanna Lindsey, Avon, 1989, Elaine Duillo cover art, Fabio cover model
Defy Not the Heart, Johanna Lindsey, Avon, 1989, Elaine Duillo cover art, Fabio cover model

SPOILER ALERT

5 stars

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Johanna Lindsey: Romance Superstar

For a while–except for maybe Jude Deveraux–there was no other mass-market romance author in the 1980s to 1990s whose prolific writing achieved such commercial success than Johanna Lindsey. Lindsey reached #1 on the New York Times Best Seller list with Defy Not the Heart.

During this time period, Lindsey was at her peak, and in a span of 10 to 15 years put out book after book (with the best covers ever!), that, for but a few exceptions, were all fun reads or even rank among my most beloved romances.

For sure, they were not always the best written, often rambling on about unimportant characters and telling more than showing. Often, I wanted to strangle the heroines for their stubbornness and TSTL tendencies.

Even so, I loved her plots involving kidnapping and forced marriages. They featured overbearing, handsome men who would treat their heroines like crap one minute, and then made passionate love to them and would brush their hair as after play. I ate Lindsey’s books up like candy and have the emotional cavities to prove it!... Read more “Historical Romance Review: Defy Not the Heart by Johanna Lindsey”

Historical Romance Review: The Innocent by Bertrice Small

the innocent
The Innocent, Bertrice Small, Ballantine, 1999, Elaine Duillo cover art

SPOILER FREE REVIEW 🙂

1 Star

Rating: 1 out of 5.

The Innocent, The Evil And The Boring

It was a bad sign that Bertrice Small’The Innocent features one of her dullest romance covers ever. The lone positive was that it was designed as one last created by legendary artist Elaine Duillo for her dear friend Bertrice.

Taking a break from Small’s usual romances where the heroine is captured by some salacious sultan and enslaved in his harem, The Innocent is a rather ho-hum medieval. The heroine is a former nun named Eleonore, who goes by the ridiculous name Elf. Elf is a paragon of virtue, saintliness, and sweetness and is totally dull. She is made to marry Ranulf, an equally boring character who patiently introduces Elf to the arts of love.

There’s an evil villain, a hired killer, who falls in love with Elf for her purity and goodness, but all I could wonder was WHY? She, like most Small heroines, is perfect beyond belief.

Ok, I lied when I said the reason behind the cover was the sole positive aspect of this book. The villainess, Isleen, is such a caricature of slutty evilness, she’s hysterical.... Read more “Historical Romance Review: The Innocent by Bertrice Small”

Historical Romance Review: The Black Lyon by Jude Deveraux

the black lyon
The Black Lyon, Avon, 1980, George Ziel cover art

VERY MILD SPOILERS 😉

4 1/2 stars

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

The Black Lyon

The Black Lyon was my first Jude Deveraux read. I loved the first half, but the second half faltered a bit as a devious woman’s scheming separates the two protagonists.

Lady Lyonene is young, free-spirited, and really quite charming, while Ranulf de Warbrooke is a powerful and gruff knight. They meet and Lyonene instantly falls for the much older Ranulf. Lyonene has no idea what she’s getting herself into when she agrees to marry him so impetuously. A cruel monster of a man soon replaces the gentle man he seemed to be when they first met.

I loved how Lyonene makes her home on Ranulf’s fortress island, Malvoisin (it means “bad neighbor”), charming his retinue of black-haired knights while Ranulf is his grumpy self. He and Lyonene struggle to make their marriage work due to Ranulf’s turbulent nature. However, when the two are separated due to Amicia, a jealous evil Frankish woman who tries to comes between them, the story takes a bit of a downturn.

We do get to find out how the Montgomery family started, as Ranulf & Lyonene’s son is named Montgomery.... Read more “Historical Romance Review: The Black Lyon by Jude Deveraux”