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REVIEW: The Bellini Bride by Michelle Reid

Dear Ms. Reid:

I was introduced to your work through the Blogger Bundle Volume II: WeWriteRomance.com Selects Presents that was released by Harlequin at the start of the year.   I really enjoyed your work and after exhausting your digital backlist (which, at the time, was about 4 titles) I proceeded to hunt down most of your print backlist through used book resources.   My favorite work was The Bellini Bride but as it was used and few people I know had read it, I wasn’t able to chat with anyone about the book.   So I forced Robin to read it and we spent an hour or two gabbing about the greatness of this book.   But now it’s been released in digital format and now I can share with the rest of the readership why I think this Harlequin Presents book is more subversive of the romance tropes than many single titles out there.

Michelle Reid The Bellini BrideThe story opens with Marco Bellini, a wealthy member of the elite Italian society, contemplating his mistress and the fact that he needs to marry.   Marco thinks to himself that he loves everything about her but what she is.   Marco views his mistress, Antonia, as a woman lacking in certain moral value. She’s not good enough to be wife material because Antonia has been the lover of a famous painter, Stefan Kranst who immortalized her nude body in several paintings.

Antonia throws out to him that half the reason he is with her is because of her noteriety.

‘You got what you came looking for, Marco,’ she told him. ‘You got the woman in the painting. You had no interest in me as a living breathing human being!’

Two streaks of colour hit his cheekbones, his whole body stiffened in affront. ‘That’s not true,’ he denied.

‘Yes, it is,’ she insisted. ‘Take away the kudos in being able to lay claim to Stefan Kranst’s notoriously sexy model, and it would take away the desire; I always knew that.’

While some may be frustrated that Antonia stays with Marco despite the fact she knows that he doesn’t love her and despite the fact that he does not view her as an equal.   But Antonia is a woman who has loved unwisely, at most, and through the story we begin to see her gain agency.   Part of Marco’s failure to perceive her as anything but a bedmate, as his mistress, is in part due to his own myopia, but also because Antonia does not trust Marco to share with him insights that might make her seem more real to him. True, he should have sought this information out, but he does not until he begins to acknowledge that losing Antonia would be worse than any public shame.

Marco wants to believe he is a decent and honorable man and certainly he has not bought Antonia’s affections.   He won her affections but in reality, Marco has to come to grips with the cavalier way he has been treating Antonia and his own complicated feelings toward her and her public face.   The themes in the book could have gone wildly wrong and the payoff begins to come out half way through the book when Marcos begins to realize the depth of his hipocrisy.   He loved the art and the art form of the nude and loved the painting of Antonia and the idea Antonia. Once he had her, possessed her like the painting, he began to like the painting less and less because he viewed the exposure of nudity of someone he knew as something of which to be shameful.   He was ashamed of Antonia.   A bigot. A hypocrite.

But his mother had admired the woman in the painting before she had known Antonia had moved in with him. Now all she saw was a woman willing to expose herself for all to see and who possessed no conscience about doing it. She also despaired, because her son had not yet assuaged what she saw as his obsession with both the painting and the woman.

And because he was a proud man, he could not acknowledge that he was in love within someone that he felt shame about; that those he cared about would feel shame about. Marco then realizes that it is he who should be ashamed.   He realizes that here he is, this supposed connoisseur of art, placing moral judgments on the subject of that art.   My complaints about the book are not the prose which Robin has called rough (I didn’t notice) but that I wish the story arc for Antonia had been a little stronger.   I think part of this was due to space constraints.   But what I love is that this story takes the idea of the purity of the heroine as a commodity and challenges the hypocritical views toward that. In order for Marco to win Antonia back, he must accept that others will always perceive her to be less than moral, that others may always look down on her as he had once had. Marco does and faces down that cynosure in a spectacular way. While imperfect in some ways, this book is on my keeper shelf. A-

Best regards,

Jane

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Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com

24 Comments

  1. Suhani
    Sep 03, 2010 @ 14:38:49

    I loved this book, I have more or less loved all books of Reid except the Marriage Surrender and The Greek’s Forced Bride(I think that was the title, keeping Harlequin titles straight is a pain).

    I too felt what you felt about Antonia’s character but you know the best part about Michelle Reid’s writing that even when you want the heroine to walk out on the hero and grow a spine, you still feel for the hero(could never point out why though). She has conflict in spades.

    If you haven’t already do read Gold Ring of Betrayal, Ethan’s Temptress, A Passionate Marriage, Marchese’s Forgotten Bride, Marriage on the Rebound(ooh I adore this one), Passionate Scandal, The De Santis Marriage, The Italian’s Revenge(nice re-union romance) and my favorite by her The Purchased Wife.
    I see I listed way to many but I still have more left ;)

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  2. ShellBell
    Sep 03, 2010 @ 14:57:56

    I’m a fan of Michelle Reid’s too! Thankfully her backlist is slowly being released as eBooks. There have only been a few of her books that I haven’t enjoyed.

    The Bellini Bride is still one of my favourites, along with The Sicilian Marriage (short story), The Purchased Wife and The Unforgettable Husband, The Mistress Bride, Gold Ring of Betrayal and Marriage on the Rebound.

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  3. peggy h
    Sep 03, 2010 @ 15:13:05

    Just got this–another item to add to my TBR over the long weekend. Thanks for the review!

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  4. Jennifer North
    Sep 03, 2010 @ 15:22:05

    I absolutely adore Michelle Reid–her alphas and the turmoil they cause go straight to my head. In the last year I’ve probably read a couple hundred romances (in every genre) and I have to say that snagging Reid’s backlist and rapidly consuming them (like a parched partygoer consumes bubbly on New Year’s) has been the biggest reading pleasure I’ve had. I think I first read about her here, so I have you guys to thank for the bliss.

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  5. Tumperkin
    Sep 03, 2010 @ 15:31:17

    I’ve read quite a few Michelle Reids – I’m quite a fan of the angsty contemp category she does so well. I’m pretty sure I’ve read this one. Does it turn out…

    S
    P
    O
    I
    L
    E
    R

    …that Stefan wasn’t really her lover? I seem to recall a big denouement at a party?

    S
    P
    O
    I
    L
    E
    R
    END

    I also recall enjoying one with a kidnapped child of estranged parents.

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  6. SonomaLass
    Sep 03, 2010 @ 15:38:43

    I’m going to have to read this one. It’s one of my pet peeves (in historical romance and some contemporaries) when some deus ex machina ending suddenly makes the “unsuitable” character acceptable to family/friends/society. It’s a much better love story when a character makes a commitment for love that flies in the face of convention or other people’s opinions.

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  7. Anne
    Sep 03, 2010 @ 17:54:35

    Love, love, LOVE THIS BOOK.

    While I think most of the Harlequin Presents books are rubbish (not to mention cringe-worthy), this one has been on my keeper shelf for years. I rarely purchase Harlequin books anymore, but my auto-buy authors include Michelle Reid, Jo Leigh, Carla Kelly and Sarah Mayberry.

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  8. Jayne
    Sep 03, 2010 @ 18:24:30

    “The Ultimate Betrayal” (old HP) is wonderful. I read it years ago after a friend loaned it to me.

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  9. Jane
    Sep 03, 2010 @ 20:05:47

    @Tumperkin Yes, you are correct in your spoiler. Also? I LOVE the one with the kidnapped child of the estranged parents particularly because the hero comes back to her even believing that she had cheated on him.

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  10. Robin
    Sep 03, 2010 @ 20:36:34

    So many things I loved about this book – every time you think you have it figured out, things take a turn and you find yourself entertaining another twist, another subversion of your expectations.

    While I wish the prose was a little more polished and the final scene seemed a bit over the top, I found Antonia and Marco to be compelling, sympathetic characters.

    If every book in the genre was anywhere near this thoughtful and challenging of our cliched expectations, I’d be deliriously satisfied.

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  11. Maya Banks
    Sep 03, 2010 @ 22:30:43

    I love, love, love Michelle Reid. She ranks in my top three Harlequin Presents authors. My fave ever by her is The Sheikh’s Chosen Wife. I was SO tense reading it. I think I held my breath for the entire last third of the book.

    The thing I love so much about Michelle Reid is that her books aren’t always comfortable to read. They’re just so intense and emotional and so very compelling. She has a way of making you FEEL the pain of her characters.

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  12. Gennita Low
    Sep 03, 2010 @ 23:44:05

    This was a great book and Gold Ring of Betrayal is also one of my Reid keepers. I think it was Reid who first came out with hero POV (that I noticed) on HP,

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  13. Rosario
    Sep 04, 2010 @ 01:45:13

    I’ll have to try this one, it certainly sounds different!

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  14. Las
    Sep 04, 2010 @ 09:38:32

    I only ever read Harlequin Presents these days out of nostalgia, as in, “Aww, how funny that I actually devoured these books when I was a teen!” This one sounds really good! I’m off to order it.

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  15. LisaCharlotte
    Sep 04, 2010 @ 23:03:23

    Read the review, downloaded and read immediately. This book incapsulates why I love the HP line. Thanks for the lead on a new HP author for me to devour.

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  16. Kaetrin
    Sep 05, 2010 @ 00:02:16

    Well, I’m off to investigate Reid’s digital titles available from eHarlequin. Thx Jane!

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  17. Lynn S.
    Sep 05, 2010 @ 20:55:19

    Dear Jane,

    Delurking for the first time anywhere, so forgive the lengthy post.

    Dear Author is my favorite book related blog. For the funny I go to SBTB (Nonnie’s review of The Iron Cowboy is worth it’s word count in gold), but for depth it’s Dear Author every time. I’ve recently come back to romances in a big way and you’ve renewed my acquaintance with the Divine Susan Napier and now, as if my TBR pile isn’t large enough, you’ve introduced me to Michelle Reid. Borrowed a copy of Gold Ring of Betrayal from my local library after reading the recommendations of the other posters and it was so, so good. Anything with blubbering men is just fine in my book. I work in family law and a happily ever after fix is what I need during my down time. Logic and reality be damned, nothing delivers a quick HEA quite like a Harlequin Presents. I enjoyed Ms. Reid’s style and am looking forward to reading more by her. Appreciated the way her love scenes are quite sensual without being what I would consider overly explicit. I enjoy explicit, but this was a welcome change of pace.

    By the way, like your new photo, shy and studious looking as ever (deceiving perhaps?) Thank you for all the reviews and commentary and here’s looking forward to more in the future. I’ll be going now, I believe I hear Sarah Mayberry calling my name.

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  18. Jane
    Sep 05, 2010 @ 21:06:30

    @Lynn S.: You have totally made my week. I love to hear that readers are falling in love with romance in a way that they hadn’t before or hadn’t recently.

    Gold Ring of Betrayal is such a great book. I hope it does get digitized. When the hero breaks down, it is such a gut wrenching moment. When he says he offends himself, he offends her and that he lost all right to make decisions when he placed his father’s words above hers is heartbreaking. But I loved that before that he came back and wanted to be with her, regardless of what he believed as it related to her infidelity. I think that is rare. Reid’s The Sheikh's Chosen Wife, as Maya Banks suggested, is marvelous too because the characters love each other but the heroine believes she is infertile and because of that cannot stay married to the hero (The sheikh) because overtime, she believes, their love will turn into something ugly as he will need an heir. It’s a very convincing, agnst filled romance. Love it. There are very few Reid books that I haven’t thoroughly enjoyed.

    Thank you again for delurking. I have a huge smile on my face.

    My new avatar has kind of an inside joke. I was dressed up for a particularly important business luncheon but while working in the morning, my hair kept falling in my eyes. I pulled out a big paperclip and stuck it in my hair to keep the hair out of my eyes.

    I proceed to my business luncheon, give my little talk, network a bit post luncheon and get back to my desk. I’m working, working, and suddenly I catch my reflection in something – can’t remember – and I see my paperclip. STILL. IN. MY. HAIR.

    I was mortified. I am on twitter and I relay my mortification and thus everyone wants to see the proof of my embarrassment. Thus my new avatar is born.

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  19. Brenna
    Sep 06, 2010 @ 00:00:22

    I love Michelle Reid’s books. I read her Gold Ring of Betrayal first and I went on a buying spree on all of her backlist after that. I still reread her books from time to time. I have her complete book list and am still a big fan. Though I do think that her older books are way better than her current ones, I still await her new release with much anticipation. I have stopped reading Mills&Boon/Harlequin for quite a while now with the exception of three authors, Michelle Reid, Susan Napier and Lynne Graham.

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  20. Lynn S.
    Sep 07, 2010 @ 12:57:50

    What a lovely response. The Sheikh’s Chosen Wife sounds like a wonderful read. I don’t mind adventures, mysteries, or spies in small measure but prefer relationship conflict and resolution. Although I mentioned suspension of logic and reality, Ms. Reid’s writing actually had me believing that the hero had grown from his experience and that the hero and heroine were meeting on more even ground by the end of the novel.

    The infertility issue has me curious. Although I mentioned only contemporary authors in my comment, I mainly read historicals (the contemporaries make for a good break in between and hopefully keep my speech patterns from resembling a character out of an Austen novel). This would be a meaty issue in the historical setting before the advent of modern medicine. Doubly devastating as, unless the man was faithless and populating the community with bastards right and left, there would be no way of knowing where the problem lay. Any authors out there who have actually tackled the subject and not copped out to the miraculous epilogue baby?

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  21. Jane
    Sep 07, 2010 @ 13:12:36

    @Lynn S.: The book that springs to mind is Laurel Ames’ A Teller of Tales. It’s out of print but I bought mine used.

    I will warn you that the Reid book has that very plot device but I still thought it was a very good emotional read.

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  22. Lynn S.
    Sep 07, 2010 @ 21:00:20

    @Jane: Thanks for the recommendation. Still looking forward to the Reid book. I have the feeling she is up to the task of making the baby a rewarding part of the read instead of just a plot contrivance.

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  23. September Recommended Reads | Dear Author
    Sep 09, 2010 @ 11:01:49

    [...] Bellini Bride by Michelle Reid. REVIEW: The Bellini Bride by Michelle Reid. [...]

  24. Rishal
    Sep 26, 2011 @ 07:16:26

    Hi Jane,great review of the Belini Bride. This is one of my favourite books. I loved this book.

    ReplyReply

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