Promise Me Christmas 

    The nights are growing longer and the winter snows are coming, and Darkenwald Castle is under siege.  
    Lord Guy Blackthorne is prepared to lay down his life for his children, his wife, and all who seek his protection. But as renegades, mercenaries, and political intrigue surround his ancient family stronghold, he’s forced to stay his hand against those who would dare to attack his fortress.  
     As supplies and hope dwindle, Lady Vespa fears Yule will not be one of good tidings, and the children at the castle shall have no gifts this year. At least she and Guy have one another, for that she is thankful. But there are few private moments to share their love, and every attempt to satisfy their passion is interrupted by enemy plots and schemes. 
     On Christmas Eve, when a battle to the death begins, Guy must fight to save all sheltered within the castle. Now Vespa’s wish for a Merry Christmas turns to a prayer for her beloved’s safety. 

Vicky said: "I loved this. Vespa and Edith are hilarious in their “shenanigans”. Guy and Thomas are perfect brothers in arms - and perfect for Vespa and Edith. Having them already married works in the story."

                  A romantic medieval adventure, 
                   set during the last days of true magic.       
     He was the Dragon of Normandy. She was the Rose of Flanders. They met in the North of England and together they changed the course of hearts and history. 
     Sir Branoc Valtaigne, ordered to Northumbria By King William II, fights to keep peace along the Scottish border. He is a formidable battle-tested warrior, but as he honors his vows to God, king, and country, a young woman’s smile proves to be his undoing.
      Martanzia Verheire, tricked into standing as good faith hostage for Flanders, seeks freedom from castle Bamburgh and love from Sir Branoc. As she clings to the Celtic dragon statue given to her by her mother, she leads them all to the brink of an era where true magic will be gone forever but where dreams can still come true.

This is an excellent medieval romance with a touch of magic!
Martanzia (Tanzie) agreed to be sent to a nunnery to avoid marrying a man who is cruel and ruthless. She and her maid, Ealgith, suffer a terrible voyage only to get to land and be handed over to some riffraff. That is when she learns, to her dismay, that her Uncle has sent her to be a hostage.  She expects the worst of Sir Branoc after a bad first meeting and when he refuses to send her on to the Abby.  
Sir Branoc is a great character! Honorable and stoic – its good to see him begin to fall for a slip of a girl. Although she is beautiful and appears innocent, he does not trust that she is not a spy.  He is willing to use her translation talents but isn’t going to let her out of his sight - except when she is drawn off by the local sorcerer.  He talks of the past and visions of the future and teaches her about herbs.
I thought the story was a bit longer than need be but, even so, I really enjoyed the writing which has a poetic quality.  I was impressed with the historical setting and feel of the story.  I thought the author really captured the sense of political intrigues of the era. The story is full of trouble stemming from the schemes of Tanzie’s Uncle and her jilted betrothed, Rathgar.  Rathgar is jealous of Branoc’s successes and wants to humiliate him. Plus Rathgar is set on claiming Tanzie as his wife and is willing to lie and kill to accomplish his goals!
The sweet and gently sensual romance between Tanzie and Branoc is beautifully developed as they overcome the distrust that exists between them.  I especially liked the magic of the dragon near the end of the book. If you enjoy lyrical writing, a bit of magic and medieval romance I recommend this wonderful read! 

Reviewed by Martha E. at Between The Lines 

                       Available Here 

                   IRON HEART

                                       England: circa. 879 A.D.
        With the heart of a warrior and the soul of a poet, Faran Kilbraun travels far from home in search of the sword and shield of his ancestors. Protecting the ancient relics was his responsibility. Now, to regain his honor, he must recover the stolen artifacts and battle a life-long enemy.  
    Following the accidental death of her cruel husband, Leanora Wrenn is wrongly accused of his murder. Forced into exile, a small north shore island becomes her lonely refuge—exoneration her only hope. 
     When Faran discovers Leanora's remote sanctuary, both their lives are changed forever. Comrades-in-arms, they fight side by side for their chance at redemption and love. 
                                       Available here.

Review from Sizzling Hot Books 
Grand Saga, Sweeping Epic, Adventure Fantasy
2 2/3 parts Beowulf
1 ½ parts Odyssey/Iliad
1 ½ part History
1 part Fantasy/Magic
1 part Bardic Tale
Big Dash Romance
Must have (or at least be seeking) Honor, Valor, and Glory

Warning: Damsel does just as much problem solving and saving (if not more) as the Hero. As with all Great Tales, not all companions make it to the end of the story (or choose to follow the Hero home, as the case may be).

England: circa. 879 A.D. In the time of King Aelfred the Great 
With the heart of a warrior and the soul of a poet, Faran Kilbraun travels far from home in search of the sword and shield of his ancestors. Protecting the ancient relics was his responsibility. Now, to regain his honor, he must recover the stolen artifacts and battle a life-long enemy. 
Following the accidental death of her cruel husband, Leanora Wrenn is wrongly accused of his murder. Forced into exile, a small north shore island becomes her place of refuge. When Faran discovers Leanora's remote sanctuary, both their lives are changed forever. 
Destined to become comrades-in-arms, they fight side by side. Ending up in one another’s arms, they find redemption and love.
This reminded me of the fantasy adventures that were so popular in the ‘80s. It was a bit slow, hard to get into and did feel like those old epics I mentioned above. But once started, it never stops and Iron Heart is a lot of fun. Something is always happening, Faran manages to find trouble at every turn, and one never knows what it is going to be next!

Faran Kilbraun is the seventh son of the ruler of the Storm Geats (he is not a Dane or Viking!) and the keeper of their Word and history. While in a mystical trance, Faran is away from his village when it is attacked. He is also the guardian of the ancient relics and treasure that were stolen during this attack. To regain his place and Honor, he must track down these relics, the sword and shield of Beowulf, and return them. He hopes to vanquish the evil rulers that caused the attack and stole the relics while on this quest.

After a storm at sea, Faran washes up on a small island and is saved by Leanora Wrenn. She is hiding out here after being falsely accused of killing her husband. The daughter of a tribal leader, she had been married off to a rival tribal leader as a ‘peace-weaver.’ Her husband was a harsh, cruel man and died trying to kill her. His family and tribe never believed her, and were intent on her death. Only her mother and Brother Thomas believed her and helped her escape. She has been living on the island by herself ever since, fearing discovery and the price his family have put on her head.

Faran finds Leanora’s boat and is happy to be able to get off the island and return to his quest. He doesn’t want to abandon her, but she has yet to explain her fears. After he explains most of his quest (he is still embarrassed over his failure to protect his village or the relics), they “become partners” when he offers part of the treasure to her. She hopes to use the treasure to pay the wergild (the price for taking a life) and to take care of her mother. Thus they set out on a grand adventure as partners, not realizing they each are the saving of other.

And what an adventure they have. Along the way, they spend time at sea, travel to several locations, encounter mystical creatures, touch history and historical figures, face crazy, evil rulers, and end up falling for each other. In the end, Faran still has to face his king over loosing the relics in the first place. It doesn’t help that this is his father he has let down. And now he is bringing in an outsider, who his Iron Heart has finally melted for…

Iron Heart gives the classic epic adventures a run for their money. The major difference is that Leanora is just as smart and resourceful as Faran (women didn’t do that much in the olden times). I loved that she saved him several times, and her brain worked better than his more often than not!

Otherwise, Iron Heart has just about everything the other stories did: big, yucky scary monsters (even the jumbo eels are too much here); demonic dictators; crazy, evil woman out to get them; magical weapons helping the hero; friends/companions backing them up; needing to fix the wrongs of their past; good king supporting them; all the features of a good ballad or epic story.

I am not sure that Iron Heart should be classified as a romance. It feels like any story that has the main characters of a man and a woman that end up together at all is put under the romance genre now a days. Yes, Iron Heart does have romance in it and the main characters do end up with a HEA (I’m not giving that away, we all see that coming, right?). But so much else is going on that this really should be under another genre with romance as secondary. Iron Heart is that much fun and exciting. A definite read for more than just romance readers. 
Review from The Romance Reviews

Gini Rifkin weaves a tale of romance and adventure that could easily be shared around a blazing campfire. She combines myth, magic, a damsel in distress and a dashing hero in what appears to be a traditional adventure tale. Her readers are rewarded with an alpha male with the heart of a poet and a distressed damsel who becomes so much more.

Leanora Wrenn lives the life of a castaway on a secluded island. She hopes to heal her wounded spirit and avoid the wrath of those who hunt her. Her plan seems to be working until a stranger washes up on her beach. 

She finds herself wondering if she should kill him or keep him. When she determines to tend the injuries of the shipwrecked warrior, she knows that her life of seclusion will end. She does not realize that she is about to become part of an epic adventure. 

The legacy of his people slipped from Faran Kilbraun's grasp--stolen by an ancient enemy--and he intends to get it back. Many of his tribe's people died during the attack that resulted in the theft; he burns to avenge their deaths. He finds in Leanora an unexpected comrade in arms and wise counsel. They learn that they have a great deal in common even though one of them is pagan and the other follows the way of the Cross.

As Faran and Leanora begin their journey to reclaim the warrior's tribal legacy, they share very little trust and a great deal of uncertainty. With each day of their adventure, they learn to rely on one another and be more courageous than they thought possible. When they reach their enemy and have Faran's legacy within their grasp, they must make a choice. They must decide whether they will take their treasure and run, or help liberate their newly made allies from the control of an evil king and queen. 

IRON HEART manages to be fun and thoughtful. Ms Rifkin explores the meeting of new and ancient traditions, the bonds of friendship and family, and the difference between duty and personal courage. She also builds characters who are changed by their experiences and each other. Fans of mythology and epic adventures will enjoy Ms Rifkin's book.




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