Like the past several recommended reads, I discovered today’s because of the people I follow on Twitter. When people start declaring a day National Drop Everything and Read Beverly Jenkins Day, you pay attention and check out the book they’re talking about. Or at least I do.
Beverly Jenkins writes mainstream historical romances, which means I wouldn’t have necessarily ever picked her books up. I would have been missing out.
My earliest exposure to romance novels were historicals I stole from my mom’s poorly hidden collection. When my mom signed off on my borrowing from the entire library, as opposed to the kid’s section, I moved onto contemporary romance authors like Judith Krantz, Danielle Steel, Olivia Goldsmith and Nora Roberts. I would’ve told you I had little interest in historical romances these day–and I would be wrong. I am now firmly #TeamJenkins
Forbidden was probably the perfect book to introduce me to Jenkins.
Rhine Fontaine is building the successful life he’s always dreamed of—one that depends upon him passing for White. But for the first time in years, he wishes he could step out from behind the façade. The reason: Eddy Carmichael, the young woman he rescued in the desert. Outspoken, defiant, and beautiful, Eddy tempts Rhine in ways that could cost him everything . . . and the price seems worth paying.
Eddy owes her life to Rhine, but she won’t risk her heart for him. As soon as she’s saved enough money from her cooking, she’ll leave this Nevada town and move to California. No matter how handsome he is, no matter how fiery the heat between them, Rhine will never be hers. Giving in for just one night might quench this longing. Or it might ignite an affair as reckless and irresistible as it is forbidden . . .
from the Amazon description
Her hero, Rhine, is a biracial man passing as white in reconstruction Era Nevada. My undergraduate degree is in history, and the dramatic tension of being a biracial black man struggling to decide if passing as white or pursuing a relationship with a black woman he’s falling for and revealing his true heritage appealed to me not only as a reader but as a historian. It added a deeper, more complex angle to a love story that was already interesting.
Eddy, for her part, is a three dimensional woman. She’s somewhat appalled by her reaction to Rhine, a white man who must only want her for his mistress. She’s clear that she wants no part of that sort of arrangement, and will be on her way as soon as she saves enough money to get to California. (other strong female characters from her books include train robbers, doctors, and bankers)
Jenkins populates her story with characters of all colors and doesn’t shy away from the complex politics of the day, while keeping the romantic tension of the couple in the foreground of the story. As a romance, it’s a forgone conclusion that the couple will get together, but I found myself holding my breath about whether they would and what the consequences would be.
I honestly can’t give a book a higher recommendation than to say that
- I resented my children for wanting things like getting picked up from school and meals because I was READING, damnit.
- I immediately ran out and devoured several more of her books, and after taking a break to read a few new releases I’ve been waiting for, am now currently reading my fifth Beverly Jenkins book in a month.
- I just bought another five books from her backlist on my kindle.
From reading more of her books I can say that her writing is consistently strong, and that she world-builds on a large scale. Reading stories centered around characters of color means you don’t just get a fantastic love story, you get perspective on history that you don’t learn about in history class (even if you’re a history major–history is most often dominated by the lives of white men). Characters pop up in other books (Rhine first appeared in Through the Storm, published in 1998, which is about his sister Sable) and the worlds of her books connect, creating a rich tapestry.
Run, don’t walk, to go buy Beverly Jenkins’s books. All of them. Then tell you friends and family you’ll be unavailable until you’ve read everything she’s ever written. Even if you don’t like historical fiction, you will like her books. I promise.
Have a book recommendation? Leave it in the comments or email me.