Saturday, October 12, 2019

Rebel and Captured by Beverly Jenkins

When I pick up a Beverly Jenkins romance I personally go in ready to learn something new about Black history. I think romance is such a good medium for exploring the perseverance of Black people in America; because it shows that despite all the suffering it's possible to carve out your own happiness in the face of injustice. I've always been reluctant to encounter stories about Black people in American history because of all the visceral pain, I feel like Jenkins books let me confront the past while also getting a happy ending.

I've heard Jenkins make a point about how history acts like after slavery, Black people disappeared until the 1960s. Rebel and Captured filled in some of those historical gaps and opened my eyes to the varied experiences of people of color in America's past.

Rebel takes place in antebellum New Orleans, where Valinda--a Northern woman born free--has come down South to teach newly freed slaves to read and write. Her dreams are smashed when her schoolhouse is destroyed by wayward soldiers. When the soldiers come after Valinda she is rescued by Drake LeVeq, a dashing architect and son of the prominent LeVeq family.

Valinda is taken in by the upper-class LeVeq family and the book follows her as she and Drake use their resources and privilege to help former slaves adjust to freedom. Race relations are taught and there is violence and danger at every turn, Throughout the hardships, Drake and Valinda find an unbreakable bond.

Throughout the book, Drake references his family's pirate heritage and the whole time I was like..."This sounds like the synopsis of another one of Jenkins books",  so I went on her website and realized this series chronicles the ancestors of the characters in her 2009 book Captured. Once I finished Rebel I grabbed Captured from the library. I've literally always wanted to read this book, I have a vivid memory of seeing this cover in Borders and the idea of a swashbuckling Black pirate rescuing a slave woman and bring her to freedom is an intriguing premise.

When gentlemen pirate Domonic LeVeq learn his French father's family wants to illegally enslave the people of a Martinique plantation he spirts the workers away to freedom. A year later he does the same for enslaved Clare Sullivan when he steals her away from a ship taking her and her masters home. Clare is becomes immersed in Domonic's life of piracy and finds friends among his diverse crew.

Again the highlights for me in this book was the history and learning about how Black people navigated the world on the brink of the Revolutionary War. It's not always easy to handle the horrors of chattel slavery that are central to this book, but Jenkins balances it us by creating a paradise for her characters in a satisfying way.

There is one character Yves who has just a major character arc in just a few pages. Does he show up in other books? Inquiring minds.

I've been dabbling in Jenkins books for a while reading a few chapters here and there.  I feel like her older books are filled with more daring escapades (and are certainly steamier) than her more current ones. Her newer books feel more domestic.

The New Orleans Leveq family first appears in Through The Storm which came out in 1998. Seriously how do her OG fans wait so long  ???

I like the cover of Captured but the models don't really match the characters. Clare is Ethiopian and has short hair and Dominic is bi-racial with long curly hair.

I often get the rep-sweats whenever a Black character shows up in a white-centric Regency because it often feels like the author goes out of the way to make sure we understand the main characters are the "good" White people. In Captured there are a few White people in Clare's life who are sympathetic and see her as human, but there is also this understanding that no matter how well-meaning-- they are still ultimately products of their privileged and biased upbringing...making them complicit.

Saturday, October 5, 2019

The Friend Zone by Abby Jimenez

Rating: Unrated | 9hrs 32 mins | Forever Romance | Contemporary | 06/11/19
The Friend Zone is one of the first in the trade illustrated cover romances (that have sparked many a conversation on Twitter) that I've read and wow it this book a doozy. I'm not a romance genre purist, I'm open to non-traditional takes when it comes to plot, story and structure and The Friend Zone takes some devastating turns that may be off-putting for those looking for a traditional HEA.

Kristen and Josh are preparing for their best friend's wedding and they are instantly drawn to each other... too bad Kristen has a loving boyfriend overseas. Part of Josh's attraction to Kristen is that she has a huge case of  "not like other girls' (She likes Quentin Tarantino, she is brash, she loves to eat and says whatever is on her mind). It may have been a bit heavy-handed but I'm all for extroverted, crude and non-traditional heroines so I liked Kristen. Josh is a more sentimental man looking to start a family, which might be an issue because Kristen has uterine fibroids that have been causing her trouble her whole life and may inhibit her ability to have the family Josh wants.

Jimenez created high stakes and big obstacles for her characters to climb. However, this is one of those books where most of the issues could be solved if the characters just TALKED TO EACH OTHER  I mean could totally see why Kristen might not want to tell someone she just meant about her health issues, but her not telling Josh is what prolongs the books a few more chapters than maybe it should have.

Slight Spoilers
Yes, this book has a complicated HEA that I found kind of shocking, but I feel like with romance trying to appeal to the "mainstream" it's okay to do something a little different. Although I do feel like this book was being a little emotionally manipulative because before the big incident happens there are all these little moments where you think something catastrophic or terrible has happened but it doesn't until readers least expect it.

Thursday, October 3, 2019

Mini Reviews: Cinnamon Bun Royals, Baking Competitions and Vegas, Baby!

A Prince On Paper is the third book in Alyssa Cole's modern-day Reluctant Royals series and follows the fake engagement of Nya the sheltered daughter of a disgraced Thesolo royal family member and Johan the playboy prince who has more heart than he is willing to show. This quiet romance follows these two cinnamon bun characters as their fake engagement gives them the freedom to discover their true passions, purpose and just maybe the loves of their lives. Fans of the series will enjoy seeing the couples from the previous novels join up for the royal wedding of Naledi and Thabiso-  Jess | Unrated 

In order to compete in the Ultimate Holiday Bake-off cooking competition bakery owner Isobel Knight has to partner with ex-football player Travis Coleman--her high school enemy. The two might not get along IRL but their combined baking skills are a recipe for success in the competition….as long as they don’t kill each other first. The concept of this book is super unique and fun. A television competition show was a great way to do forced proximity for enemies to lovers. The one thing that nagged at me about this book is that it’s never made clear why Travis and Isobel didn’t get along. KE ★★★

Whenever I see a fall-themed holiday romance novel I immediately snap it up. IDK why there aren’t more Fall holiday romances with all the cultural expectations and potential conflicts involved in things like Thanksgiving and Halloween. In this simmering Halloween novella single mom and hairstylist, Savannah is enjoying a joint bachelor/ bachelorette party and unexpectedly falls for one of the charming groomsmen. Through a weekend of Vegas Halloween revelry, these two can’t ignore that they’ve found love at first sight. Warren deftly creates a satisfyingly sexy rom-com in just 75 pages. I liked that she didn’t try to wrap up every loose end and ended it as an HFN instead of a HEA. KE ★★★

Side note: I liked how when a character mentioned their own love story the e-book included a link to that character's story on Amazon. I hate when you have to scroll through an author’s backlist to figure out which story side characters are from.

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

King Me by Lucy Lennox (Forever Wilde #7)

Rating: ★★★+.5  | 298 Pages | Contemporary Romance | Self-Pub | Release Date: 7/16/2019
For years FBI agent Dirk Falcon has been after notorious art thief Le Chaton, otherwise known as Kingston Wilde-- an American expat studying art in France. When a priceless crown is stolen by King’s ex-boyfriend, Falcon recruits King to steal the crown back in exchange for immunity. As the two spend time together planning the heist their attraction grows. But a relationship outside of the mission is impossible for countless reasons--including that Falcon isn’t being totally honest about the purpose of the mission.

I went back and forth on this book while reading it. Because look, if you stare at anything in it for too long the entire thing falls apart. I was also really confused by how convoluted the heist plot was getting and a little sketchy about the whole criminal/FBI agent romance. But in the end this book won me over. I think it happened for me because we got past the main “heist” and into the character development and redemption arc. One of my notes is literally “gosh darn it, it got me in the end”.  I would be down to read another book with these two character planning another heist.  There are some interesting twists, turns and character dynamics.

King Me is the latest book in Lennox’s Forever Wilde series, an m/m series about the men in the Wilde family in Hobie, Texas who--from what I can tell--tick off every stock hero in Romancelandia. With this book, it seemed like Lennox was doing something different by focusing it not in Texas and doing more of a suspense-like plot. It’s clear by her author note she put a lot of research into art history and security. Nobody knows Kingston in an art thief, so I ’m curious how she’s been building up his character in the background of the other books.

I found this book by browsing through KU, so if you’re looking for a new KU reads check this one out!

Multiple times in the story Kingston pretends to be asleep to get out of things and it made me think of Troy from Community.