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”
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”
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 first book in Roberta Gellis’s Medieval Song trilogy, Siren Song, takes us to 13th century England.
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.
“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
Rating: 3 out of 5.
Told through alternating first-person perspectives, Roberta Gellis’s Fires of Winter starts with a bang.
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’ve read Mary Jo Putney’s Uncommon Vows several times and have always loved this passionate medieval story about obsessive love.
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.
Lovespell is yet another great romance by the eclectic Deana James, who wrote wonderful, complex novels like Captive Angel.
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”
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.
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.
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”
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.
Rating: 4 out of 5.
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.
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”
It was a bad sign that Bertrice Small’s The Innocentfeatures 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.
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.