Book Review

Heart’s Aflame by Johanna Lindsey: A Guest Review from Betty Fokker


Title: Hearts Aflame
Author: Johanna Lindsey
Publication Info: Avon 1987
ISBN: 978-0380899821
Genre: Historical: European

Book CoverHearts Aflame, the current Avon .99c digital offering offering, inspired Betty Fokker to read and review this romance classic.

Boy oh boy, does this book bring back the memories. I was a devoted reader of Johanna Lindsey in the 80’s, but I hadn’t read any of her books for years, so when I saw this book on sale for $.99 I suffered a fit of nostalgia and uploaded that sucker to my kindle. Here’s the plot:

Kristen Haardrad was looking for one last adventure with her brother Selig. However, nothing prepared her for the fact that they are going Viking. As soon as they landed, they were attacked then captured. Saddened by the death of her brother, Kristen disguised as a boy to avoid rape. However, when Lord Royce entered the scene. It was love at first sight, or at least for her. She couldn’t help the mixed feelings that she had for him. She longed to escape this land of strangers, yet her feelings for Royce held her back from her freedom. Lord Royce of Wyndhurst was attracted to the Viking beauty. However, his memories of the past held him back from his attractions toward her. However, her family is not ready to lose her to this Saxon man, they will fight for her freedom. Will Royce lose his head and his heartmate in this battle against a family of strong Vikings that are out for blood?

I hadn’t read it since it was first published in 1987. It was like mental time-capsule, and I was in high school again. As I read it I could practically smell the coco-butter I used to try to get the perfect St. Tropez tan. I longed to ‘pick out’ my permed mane of frizzy hair and adorn it with a massive bow. I yearned to clothe myself in a mixture of green and pink. I think my face broke out.

Hearts Aflame (Dear God how I miss the old-skool titles) was Lindsey’s 14th book and by this time she was writing at the peak of her game. You know those cliches about about romance novels? How they had impossibly beautiful protagonists and could be rapey? Well, Lindsey helped create those cliches. Her books shot up the NYT best seller list with regularity, and she was one of the major romance writers of the late 20th century.

I loved her books back in the day. I had them all. Moreover, my friends and my mother were fellow readers of the Lindsey romances, so they enabled my addiction. I re-read them often. In fact, I could remember chunks of this one even after 30 years.

Nevertheless, I was prepared to sneer as I picked up my kindle. After all, I was now a grown woman, a feminist, and had read some of the excellent work later romance writers had produced. Once beloved in my youth, what had Lindsey to offer me now, besides creating a tendency within me to slip into hyperbolic writing style? How could I forgive her her historical inaccuracies, and allow her to again rule my rebel’s heart? How would I response to the purple prose of the sex scenes? Would I now mock terms like the “throbbing love shaft”, since it has been long ere my innocence was torn asunder by my love’s rampant manhood?

Some of the things I dreaded to find were there. The heroine was indeed a vision of loveliness. Water sparkled like diamonds on her lashes, which shaded her aqua eyes, which resided above her high cheekbones and small straight nose. The hero was ‘impossibly handsome’, had a chest like a aircraft carrier, and eyes of ‘dark, crystalline’ green. Better yet, his ‘long legs were think and powerful’. I am sure it was an unintentional allusion to ‘the strong root of him’, since surely no author would be trying to get the reader to think of other long, thick and powerful body parts the hero might have!

There were also certain ‘holes’ plugged in the plot by sheer denial. How did Kristen hid her femininity from the Saxon guards? Simple. A little dirt on her skin, a bloody bandage to hide her (natch) glorious hair and no one, and I mean no one, not even captive prisoners chained together in a small house, needed to take a leak or go poo. The castle, rare for 9th century Britain, had lots of privacy.

The sex did, I am sad to say, get rapey in places. It was the 80’s. That kind of sex scene [in romance novels] happened a lot back then. Nevertheless, the sex reminded me that Lindsey’s books were the reason I expected guys to provide oral sex (and do it well, dammit) and why I still like a little BDSM for variety.

But you know what else I found? I found the seeds of my future feminism.

Kristen could kick some righteous ass. She stood up to the hero with gusto. She had no problem, and certainly no shame, with the fact she wanted to ride him into the ground. She didn’t cry and wait for the hero to save her. Hell, no. She beat the bad guys up, frequently, and rescued the hero. It was clear that Royce (I miss old-skool romance hero names) was only over the top so he could qualify as worthy of her. It made me think, and remember. Lindsey’s heroines were all like that. Sure, her books were neck-deep in impassioned adjectives and imperiled adverbs, but there was feminism buried in the glistening mounds of embellishments.

So, to my surprise, I really enjoyed the book. Not quite as much as I when I was teenager, but still I had a lot of fun reading it. Her writing was colorful to the point of garish in places, but it was a pleasure to read. As silly as the plot was, it still managed to be a page-turner. That’s some good writing right there, y’all.

Would it pass muster if it had just been published for the first time this year? Probably not. Romance has evolved in new directions, tends to have more coherent plot lines, and seldom has the florid writing style that marked a Lindsey. No one uses the term ‘heartmate’ with a straight face anymore. But for the 80’s this thing rocked.
I give it two grades. It gets an A for it’s 80’s incarnation, judged against the norms of the time. It gets a C- for it’s present printing, with the understanding that it won’t be to everyone’s taste.

Now, someone help me find my jelly shoes and come watch Real Genius with me.

This book is available from Amazon | Kindle | BN | WORD | Kobo | WORD Brooklyn | Book Depository.

Comments are Closed

  1. 1
    HeatherU says:

    You had me laughing aloud through your review, Betty! You nailed what is so great/awful about the 80s (and particularly Lindsey) romances. I wouldn’t doubt I will find the roots of my own feminism when I re-read her books.

  2. 2
    CarrieS says:

    Loved the review!  I esp loved that you gave it two grades.  I dislike giving letter grades because I usually feel the grade will vary based on the audience and the context.  Awesome review!

  3. 3
    Carin says:

    I loved your review, Betty! 

    As I read it I could practically smell the coco-butter I used to try to get the perfect St. Tropez tan. I longed to ‘pick out’ my permed mane of frizzy hair and adorn it with a massive bow. I yearned to clothe myself in a mixture of green and pink. I think my face broke out.

    So awesome!  I know that re-read feeling!

  4. 4
    Betty Fokker says:

    Many thanks, HeatherU.

  5. 5
    Betty Fokker says:

    Hey! More comment! Many thanks all those who think my review was awesome. If you didn’t then I will NOT let you borrow my Cyndi Lauper greatest hits cd.

  6. 6
    Donna says:

    Thanks for the great review Betty, and reminding us old skool girls what it was like back in the day. I recently reread my old Laurie McBain’s & felt exactly the same – including the breaking out.
    Funny, I was just contemplating upgrading my “Real Genius” VHS to a DVD!!! Mmmmm Val Kilmer…..

  7. 7
    Honeychurch says:

    Even as a teenager I couldn’t get beyond the fact that a Viking lady was called Kristen. I mean – really?! Ah, I credit this book of all books to send me down the straight & narrow for .. dare I say it .. more historically accurate romance novels.

  8. 8
    Aurian says:

    Great review Betty, thank you! I also loved Johanna Lindsey, and still own those books. But re-reading them doesn’t happen anymore, I do read the new ones. Yes, she is still writing!

    Ooo Girls just wanna have fun, reading lots of books!

  9. 9

    This was the first romance novel I ever read, and will always have a special place in my heart.

  10. 10
    P. Kirby says:

    “jelly shoes” Totally gave me an 80s flashback. I had several pairs of those things. Different colors. Probably to match the idiotic bows in my poor, over-permed, tortured hair.

  11. 11

    I think you nailed this one. I, too, read it back in the day. I was a JL reader back in the day, and was surprised to see this one come to the Kindle as well, but I resisted the urge to go back in time.  Think I’ll go find a pair of jeans to roll up now….

  12. 12
    Meggrs says:

    Real Genius! “Your mother puts license plates in your underwear? How do you sit?”

    Great review, Fokker. The old-skoolies still have a place, but I also love looking at them from a contemporary context.

  13. 13
    MarieC says:

    Jelly shoes…Don’t ever wear them on a hot day or without your matching plastic purse….

    I loved the review, summarized perfectly. Like others, I was a JL devotee in the eighties…along with neon, big hair, and big ugly earrings.

  14. 14
    Mayweed says:

    “Imperilled adverbs,”  I actually snorted.  Thank you!

  15. 15
    abschli says:

    Thanks for the great review! It’s been several years since I read this, and your review was dead on, and funny.

  16. 16
    Zoe Archer says:

    “You’ll rue the day!”
    “‘Rue the day?’ Who talks like that?”
    “He does.”

    “Can you hammer a six-inch spike through a board with your penis?”
    “Not right now.”
    “A girl’s gotta have her standards.” [exits]
    “That is a very smart girl.”

    I could go on…

  17. 17
    sweetsiouxsie says:

    I remember the day I discovered this book was part of a trilogy!!!! I went to the bookstore to purchase them. I still love them. Who cares about historical inaccuracy? I want entertainment!
    I lovingly called this viking trilogy “Women in Chains”.
    I love it when Selig comes back from the dead in his own book and he is one of those guys who is swooningly handsome and shares his “favors” with all of the women in the castle.
    Good times!!!
    Thanks for the nostalgia and a great review!!

  18. 18
    Vicki says:

    And Kristen, while typically a male Norse name, is not impossible for a woman. I have a Norse ancestress named Kristen Alina which was not typical for her age (about 500 years ago) but there she is on the list with the Thoras and Holmfridrs.

    Great review, btw. Reminds me why we used to sit in the back of the classroom and pass Johanna Lindsay’s books back and forth.

  19. 19
    Theresa says:

    Great review. I just started reading romances. I use to read classic books but I decided to try romances as well. I downloaded this e-book from all you can books a few days ago. A friend of mine recommended me to start with this one. I can’t wait to read it because you made me so curious about this book!

  20. 20
    Donna says:

    Bwahahahahahha! Thank you Zoe Archer! That is my favorite movie line of all time, and I didn’t have the guts to post it.

  21. 21

    I too, had every single Johanna Lindsay ever written – she was so much better than some of the other Old Skool (cough- Kathleen Woodiwiss -cough) writers. I don’t think I could read her now, though. But your review brought back some good memories. I need to find some pearls and flats pumps to wear with my jeans…

  22. 22
    Sam says:

    had a chest like a aircraft carrier

    Lots of tiny people in orange jumpsuits running around on it? Doesn’t sound healthy…

  23. 23
    Susan says:

    I couldn’t resist downloading this – I still have brain cells devoted to remembering the scene where Kristen spills peas all over the floor.

    Some things do not age well.

    But Dirk had a monster riding his back, the monster of lust.

    Was there some rule that every fourth dude in an ‘80s romance novel had to be named Dirk?

    I read this quote to my husband and once he stopped laughing he said he pictured a naked Viking with Animal on his back yelling “Wo-man!” “Wo-man!”

    So it was worth 99 cents just for that.

  24. 24
    Lorraine says:

    I still have all my old Lindsay’s.  Although I haven’t really liked anything she’s written in the last 10 years, she’s still an autobuy for me, simply out of loyalty for all the many years of unadulterated reading pleasure and love of history she gave me. 

    When I first read this book I thought is was so HAWT;  IDK how many times I read it.  I LOVED it!!!

  25. 25
    Miss Moppet says:

    I LOVED that book when I was twelve. As soon as you said “brother Selig” I remembered everything. I also remember the original cover which was beautiful and all white with Fabio as Royce. But a brunette Fabio. It was actually one of the only Fabio covers that I ever found attractive and that was mostly because I really liked Royce. My recollection was that he was very sweet and loved her madly.

    Awww now I want to reread it. I hope this doesn’t end like one of the other books I reread that I had loved as a kid. I’ve since willfully forgotten the name, but it was so beyond the realm of just “rape-y”. It was rape-tastic. Also at the end, there no way to recover from the phrase, “love pudding”. Yes. Love Pudding.

  26. 26
    Sazbah says:

    Ugh, I just finished reading this, and I liked it, except for the sex, which kind of disturbed me. It’s the first vintage romance I’ve read, and the first with anything ‘rapey’, and it sent my ick-metre ticking of the charts.

    When they inevitably fall into bed, it plays out like this:

    “I’m going to bone you whether you’re willing or not.”
    “Oh, well, I’d prefer that I not be raped, so I’ll say yes, and then it’s not rape, right?”
    “Uh, yeah… totally. Now take off your clothes and get in my bed, wench.”
    “Moan, groan, Uh-uh-uh! WTFery? You have a HYMEN?! You’re not a whore! Your tricked me!”
    “No shit. I thought if I was a virgin you’d rape me.”
    “Well, yeah. But I would have raped you either way.”

    So. He’s going to have sex with Kristen whether she wants to or not. Despite the fact that, yeah, she wants to, he doesn’t give a damn either way. My issue was this: Willingness and intent to rape is surely just as bad as the act itself. The dude set out with the intent to force himself on her, and it’s kind of repugnant. Royce sees it as not rape, because she’s a slave, and he’s her owner, so he can do whatever he wants. So, you know, it’s OK ‘cos the law’s on his side. Never mind, well, morals.

    I kind of felt let down, because otherwise, Kristen is such a great heroine. If not for the sex scenes, I would have love-love-LOVED this book.

    “But Dirk had a monster riding his back, the monster of lust.”

    Was there some rule that every fourth dude in an ‘80s romance novel had to be named Dirk?

    I read this quote to my husband and once he stopped laughing he said he pictured a naked Viking with Animal on his back yelling “Wo-man!” “Wo-man!”]


  27. 27
    Metal Queen says:

    This is one of my fave books of all time.

  28. 28
    Becky I says:

    Well said!  You had me laughing out loud, and since I’m reading this while working the desk at the library, I got a few interesting looks.  I do not have to consider getting this book for my kindle, though, as I still have the original paperback from the 80s to enjoy in all it’s rapturous, clinch-covered glory!  I think that Johanna has stayed true to her writing through the years, and I actually enjoyed her most recent title “When Passion Rules” even though some said it was old-fashioned.  What you get with a Lindsey novel is a plucky heroine and a perfect hero.  Perfect for a quick, page-turning read.  I may have to put in my DVD of Real Genius tonight.  Val Kilmer indeed!

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