Jenkins, Beverly. Rebel. New York: Avon Books, 2019.
Mass Market Paperback | $7.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0062861689 | 373 pages | Historical Romance–Reconstruction
After finally reading some Beverly Jenkins books earlier this year, I was excited to see what she would bring to the table with this new release, Rebel, especially given the very bold series title, “Women Who Dare,” and an incredibly exciting premise.
And, of course, Jenkins delivers, presenting two compelling leads. Valinda is the standout of Rebel, who is teaching a class of freedmen and women, placing her in a position that subjects her to the injustices that are rife against Black people in Reconstruction-era New Orleans. Drake LeVeq is a worthy counterpart for her, in his own work for the Freedmen’s Bureau. And while their relationship is one that is kind of insta-lust-y, it is still such a beautiful story, and one where I found myself rooting for them every step of the way.
I also continue to love how dedicated Jenkins is to her research, recreating the tense atmosphere of the times in a way that left me feeling like I had learned a lot more about it than I ever had in any classroom lecture.
This novel is a gem, and Beverly Jenkins continues to prove why she’s essentially a rock star in the romance community, solidifying my desire to read more of her books in the future. And I recommend anyone who hasn’t read this one (or any Jenkins books) to pick this one or any of her historicals up if they want a good blend of education and entertainment.
Another year, and once again we have more proof how little the romance industry has progressed, first with the release of The Ripped Bodice third annual State of Racial Diversity in Romance survey, and more recently with the release of the RITA finalists, which are, once again overwhelmingly white, and while there are a couple finalists of color, Black authors in particular are once again snubbed. And, as is often the case when race comes up, while some are compassionate allies, others are…not. Claiming not to be racist, they say such things like “I don’t see color,” and I don’t care if someone is black, red, blue, purple, etc.” (I greatly appreciate Eva Leigh’s takedown of the latter defense in particular).
Therefore, wanting to write about this whole situation, but being aware that I may not have a lot of the information, due to a lot of it being insider Romance Writers of America organizational stuff that I am only getting snippets of secondhand, I made a compromise and decided to shout out my favorite books by authors of color.
So, without further ado, and not (entirely) in any particular order, here are my favorite reads by authors of color:
- The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang (2018): Obviously, this one would be on the list. And Helen Hoang said on Twitter that she didn’t enter, due to her awareness of the broken RITAs judging system, and how it favored some POC over others. But regardless, it is still my (and many others’, I’m sure) personal favorite of last year. Despite having a premise that could have easily put me off, it captured the perfect balance of steamy and sweet for me, and Michael and Stella have one of the healthiest, most nurturing relationships in romance I’ve ever read.
- Once Ghosted, Twice Shy by Alyssa Cole (2019): I’ve been dying to read more f/f, and despite it being only a novella, this satisfied my craving completely. While the main Reluctant Royals books have fallen a little short of expectations for me, this one was beautiful, and hit all the right notes as a second chance love story.
- The Proposal by Jasmine Guillory (2018): I had some issues with the element of miscommunication in her prior book, but The Proposal hit it out of the park for me. I loved the emotional journey that Nik goes on toward letting herself be loved, especially after being with a partner who was emotionally abusive, and Carlos for being such a great, supportive hero from the beginning.
- Her Perfect Affair by Priscilla Oliveras (2018): I was psyched when Priscilla’s first book double finaled last year, and that was part of why I ended up checking out her work. But I personally feel like this one is better than the first, although I may be biased due to the librarian heroine and the adorable hero. It has a situation that I did not expect to love, but
- Forbidden by Beverly Jenkins (2016): My first Beverly Jenkins book and my personal favorite of her Old West/“Rhine Trilogy,” I loved Forbidden for its captivating romance while dealing with difficult topics like race relations and Passing.
- Let’s Talk About Love by Claire Kann (2018): Asexual representation is lacking, particularly in traditional publishing, and I was glad to see this one get some love last year, especially since I first heard about it through author Mackenzi Lee’s Pride Month recommendations video. I love how it deals with navigating how to have a relationship as a asexual person, as well as touching on the pressures that Black people in America face, having to work twice as hard to prove themselves academically and professionally.
- I Believe in a Thing Called Love by Maurene Goo (2017): This is an adorable book that put a fun spin on a premise that’s been done before: using tips from Korean dramas to impress the guy you like. And while the romance was cute, “flailures” and all, the best part about this (and a Maurene Goo book, in general) is seeing the parent-child relationships she crafts. The heroine and her father becoming closer through their shared love of K-Dramas is so sweet.
- Pride by Ibi Zoboi (2018): While I’ve seen mixed reviews of this YA Pride and Prejudice retelling, I enjoyed this one. My criteria for an Austen retelling is a mix of capturing the spirit of the book, while adding something new, and Ibi Zoboi does so in transplanting the story to present-day Brooklyn, and discussing the issue of gentrification.
- The Forbidden Hearts series by Alisha Rai (2017-18): This series was life changing in the best way. I’m not normally a fan of super-steamy books, but I loved the way the romance in these books was just as much about the characters’ emotional bond with one another as it was about their sexual desire. And the series also beautifully develops family relationships that I could get invested in just as much as the love relationships, and while I can sometimes find that some authors focus too much on one and leave something wanting with the author, I felt Alisha Rai captured the perfect balance of the two here.
- The Loyal League series by Alyssa Cole (2016-19): I admit, I’m cheating on this one, as I haven’t read book 3 yet, and I don’t know for sure when I’ll get to it. But the first two books are amazing, and I love the beautiful relationships that arise between the two couples from working together in high-pressure situations.
Jenkins, Beverly. Tempest. New York: Avon Books, 2018.
Mass Market Paperback | $7.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0062389046 | 373 pages | Historical Romance
Tempest is a great conclusion to Beverly Jenkins’ Old West trilogy. Striking middle ground of being better paced and fleshed out than book two, but still not quite leaving as much of an emotional impact as book one, I still more or less found myself satisfied to see Regan get a hard-won happy ending.
One thing I love is Regan’s independence, and she makes a strong first impression on the page with the initially meeting with her intended at gunpoint. Even as there are multiple people who try to undermine her as she embarks on her new life as Colt’s wife, including some of the disputes with her husband, I love that she shows strength through it at all.
While the distraught widower is a figure that has been seen before in romance, I really enjoyed Colt as a hero, and how he grows through his marriage to Regan. And I adore the sort of man who wants to put his daughter first.
The drama and suspense was well-developed for the most part, especially with Regan trying to deal with the rejection of people like Colt’s crusty aunt and the “other woman.” I did feel like the final confrontation felt like a slightly weaker version of the one in the first book, with both involving the same type of character, this time with much weaker stakes.
But I did more or less enjoy this one, and look forward to anything Beverly Jenkins writes next. I would recommend this to fans of historicals that have low angst, but still have depth in terms of characterization.
Jenkins, Beverly. Breathless. New York: Avon Books, 2017.
Mass Market Paperback | $7.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0062389022 |376 pages | Historical Romance
Breathless was something of a disappointment in comparison to its predecessor. However, it does still have a few high points. The main one is the characters. Kent and Portia are both well-written, likable characters. I like the way Portia’s backstory was developed, with her reluctance to trust men due to her upbringing with her mother. And Kent was a great hero who has made a few mistakes in life, but has grown as a person and I loved how he worked to prove himself a worthy partner for Portia.
And while the historical issues were a bit less pronounced, I did like the allusions to historical figures and events which helped to build the rich atmosphere of the period in my mind.
However, the story lacked any real conflict. While there is nothing wrong with a fluffier story, there was nothing standing in the way of Portia and Kent being together other than her own reticence, and that did not provide a strong enough plot to keep me engaged.
Despite this one being a bit of a disappointment, it does set up what I hope will be a promising third installment for Regan. And I would still recommend this to fans of diverse historicals.
Jenkins, Beverly. Forbidden. New York: Avon Books, 2016.
Mass Market Paperback | $7.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0062389008 | 370 pages | Western Romance
Forbidden was an unexpected surprise for me, given the fact I actually DNFed it ages ago. However, it should not have surprised me, given how much more open-minded of a reader I have become in terms of genres and settings since then. That said, this is one book that is definitely worth the hype, and one I pinch myself for not seeing its worth sooner, considering its a romance I love for its substantiveness in tackling real world issues within the context of the historical period, that also still feel very relevant today.
Rhine’s story arc gripped me, in spite of not having read the book where he initially appears, because I’m so fascinated by the complex and controversial phenomenon of passing. Jenkins managed to portray his reasons for doing so in his past, while also showing that he still has compassion for the Black and African American people in his community when many of the White people he associates with still think Blacks beneath them. And through the development of his bond with Eddy, I felt like the stakes were convincing in terms of him being compelled to make a choice that might have negative consequences. And I love the strength of Eddy herself, having gone through her own difficulties in the past, showing courage in various moments of the story, like the decision to go out into the great unknown to pursue her dream to begin with, and her choice to fight off an assailant, which leads to her being stranded in the desert.
I also liked the way the secondary characters were active parts of the story without being too overwhelming. Sylvia and Doc Randolph’s romantic arc was a subtle subplot that allowed me to root for them without them stealing page time from Rhine and Eddy. I am also anxious to continue the series and see how things pan out for Portia and Regan, especially considering Portia’s observations concerning relationships with men gleaned from living with her mother.
I would recommend this to fans who love historical romances, especially those who love stories with depth and just as much history as there is romance.