Tag Archives: classic romance

Julie Anne Long’s Catalogue

HISTORICAL ROMANCES

Early Books:
The Runaway Duke – early work, dated
To Love a Thiefvery enjoyable

Three Sisters Trilogy: early series, fine
Beauty and the Spy
Ways to Be Wicked
The Secret to Seduction

Pennyroyal Green Series:
The Perils of Pleasure  – fun
Like No Other LoverDelightful, hot
Since the Surrender – fine, prostitution shouldn’t be funny
I Kissed an Earl – very popular
What I Did for a DukeCLASSIC, fantastic hero
How the Marquess Was Won – really good, but it fell apart
A Notorious Countess Confesses excellent
It Happened One Midnight very good, but somehow not memorable
Between the Devil and Ian Eversea – meh, more of the hero from What I Did for a Duke
It Started with a Scandal – enjoyable enough, but nothing special
The Legend of Lyon Redmond FANTASTIC, better if you read the series first
Malcolm and Isabel (Malcolm/Isabel) – contemporary coda to the series

The Pennyroyal Green series ranked, numbers 1 and 2 are non-negotiable:

1. What I Did for a Duke
2. The Legend of Lyon Redmond
3. A Notorious Countess Confesses
4. It Happened One Midnight
5. Like No Other Lover
6. I Kissed an Earl
7. Between the Devil and Ian Eversea
8. It Started with a Scandal
9. The Perils of Pleasure
10. Since the Surrender
11. How the Marquess Was Won

Palace of Rogues Series:
Lady Derring Takes a Lover (Tristan/Delilah) – very enjoyable, recommended
Angel in a Devil’s Arms (Lucien/Angelique)

CONTEMPORARY ROMANCES –  I really prefer the historicals

Hellcat Canyon Series:
Hot in Hellcat Canyon
Wild at Whisky Creek
Dirty Dancing at Devil’s Leap (Mac/Avalon) – pleasant, nothing special
The First Time at Firelight Falls

Lisa Kleypas’s Catalogue

Themes: Make your own life and your own luck. Hard work is rewarded. To find a true partner, you will need to leave your comfort zone. Also, find an incredibly hot  man who adores you.

HISTORICAL ROMANCES

Standalone Novels/Early Series:
Surrender – don’t, dated
Stranger in My Arms – don’t
Suddenly You – pretty good, reasonably racy
Somewhere I’ll Find You – don’t
Because You’re Mine – don’t
I Will – nope
Where Dreams Beginpersonal favourite, I LOVE THIS BOOK
Again the Magic main plot has sturm and drang, secondary plot is great and has a marvelous hero

Gamblers Series:
Then Came You  – good, a lot of readers really like it
Dreaming of You CLASSIC, one of romance’s ultimate heroes, I have read it many times
Where’s My Hero – novella follow up to Dreaming of You – for completists

Bow Street Runners Series:
Someone to Watch Over Me – a bit dated, one great moment
Lady Sophia’s Lover  – SMOKING hot hero, pretty good overall, dated
Worth Any Price – don’t, unless you want a lot of sex and no emotion, then do

The Wallflowers Series:
Secrets of a Summer Nightpersonal favourite, delicious hero
It Happened One Autumn – good not great, pompous hero, the heroine is a bit of a pill
The Devil in WinterCLASSIC with the ultimate Rake/Wallflower combination
Scandal in the Spring – sweet ending to the series
A Wallflower Christmas – for completists only

The Hathaways Series:
Mine till Midnight
great, has my all time favourite heroine
Seduce Me at Sunrise – too much agita for me
Tempt Me at Twilight personal favourite
Married by Morning a near miss, but still good
Love in the Afternoon excellent, sweet and grows on me with each re-read

The Ravenels:
Cold-Hearted Rake – lays groundwork for the new series, could be stronger
Marrying Winterbourne – middling, hero manhandles the heroine
Devil in Spring – best of the series, but not up to Kleypas’s standard
Hello Stranger – strangely dated; hero born and raised in England has an Irish accent
Devil’s Daughter – best of the series, charming hero

CONTEMPORARY ROMANCES

The Travis Series:
Sugar Daddydidn’t really like the hero
Blue-Eyed Devilgood, not great
Smooth Talking StrangerGreat, but can a hero be too perfect?
Brown Eyed Girl – Based on reviews, I didn’t bother.

Crystal Cove Series: Not my cup of tea, did not read.

Author Commentary & Tallies Shameful

Shortcuts:    

I have more lists over there on the right—>

My AUTOBUY List (Links Will Take You to a Summary of the Author’s Catalogue)
Tessa Dare (on probation right now, so not an autobuy, but still an autoread)
Laura Florand – She’s been on hiatus since 2017. I miss her SO MUCH!
Lisa Kleypas
Julie Anne Long – historicals
Courtney Milan – The. Very. Best.

2020 READING LISTS:

Recommended books are in bold.

The (Shamefree) Tally 2020

  1. Costello, Lauren Braun & Russell Reich Notes on Cooking: A Short Guide to an Essential Craft
  2. DiAngelo, Robin White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism
  3. Fashionary Fashionpedia: The Visual Dictionary of Fashion Design
  4. Feldman, Deborah Unorthodox: The Scandalous Rejection of My Hasidic Roots
  5. Fisher, Carrie Wishful Drinking
  6. Stone, Victoria Helen Problem Child (A Jane Doe Thriller)
  7. Whedon, Joss & Georges Jenty Buffy the Vampire Slayer: The Long Way Home

The (Shameful) Tally 2020

  1. Bowen, Sarina and Elle Kennedy Epic (Wes/Jamie)
  2. Clayborn, Kate Beginner’s Luck (Ben/Ekaterina “Kit”)
  3. Hall, Alexis Boyfriend Material (Lucien/Oliver)
  4. Hibbert, Talia Bad for the Boss (Theo/Jennifer)
  5. Hibbert, Talia Undone by the Ex-Con (Isaac/Lizzie)
  6. Hibbert, Talia Sweet on the Greek (Nikolas/Aria)
  7. Hibbert, Talia Work for It (Olu/Griffin)
  8. Hibbert, Talia Untouchable (Evan/Ruth)
  9. Hibbert, Talia A Girl Like Her (Nathaniel/Hannah)
  10. Hibbert, Talia That Kind of Guy (Zach/Rae)
  11. Hibbert, Talia Damaged Goods (Samir/Laura)
  12. Hibbert, Talia Get a Life, Chloe Brown (Red/Chloe) 
  13. Hibbert, Talia Take a Hint Dani, Brown (Zafir/Danika)
  14. Holt, Leah When It Rains, He Pours (Liam/Glory)
  15. Kelly, Carla Regency Royal Navy Christmas (Micah/Asenathe) (Andrew/Lorna)
  16. Kleypas, Lisa Chasing Cassandra (Tom/Cassandra)
  17. Knight, JJ Big Pickle (Jace/Nova)
  18. Lauren, Christina Josh and Hazel’s Guide to Not Dating (Josh/Hazel)
  19. McQuiston, Casey Red, White, and Royal Blue (Alex/Henry) FANTASTIC!
  20. Parker, Lucy Headliners (Nick/Sabrina)
  21. Quinlan, Bria The Last Single Girl (John/Sarah)
  22. Reid, Rachel Tough Guy (Ryan/Fabian)
  23. Roberts, Nora Vision in White (Carter/Mackenzie)
  24. Rochon, Farrah The Boyfriend Project (Daniel/Samiah)
  25. Snyder, Suleikha Tikka Chance on Me (Tyson/Pinky)
  26. Sosa, Mia Crashing into Her (Love on Cue (Anthony/Eva)
  27. Vincy, Mia A Wicked Kind of Husband (Joshua/Cassandra)
  28. Vincy, Mia A Beastly Kind of Earl (Rafe/Thea)
  29. Weatherspoon, Rebekah Wrapped: A FIT Adjacent Christmas Novella (Aiden/Shae)
  30. Weatherspoon, Rebekah Rafe: A Buff Male Nanny (Rafe/Sloan)

2019 READING LISTS:

Recommended books are in bold.

The (Shamefree) Tally 2019

  1. Shrimpton, Jayne Victorian Fashion

The (Shameful) Tally 2019

  1. Balogh, Mary Someone to Trust (Colin/Elizabeth)
  2. Balogh, Mary Someone to Honor (Gil/Abigail)
  3. Balogh, Mary Someone to Remember (Charles/Matilda)
  4. Blakeman, Aviva Stacked (Mags/Imogene)
  5. Blakeman, Aviva Say My Name (John/Zelda)
  6. Bowen, Sarina Brooklynaire (Nate/Rebecca) DNF
  7. Bowen, Sarina novella Studly Period (Pepe/Josephine)
  8. Bowen, Sarina novella Yesterday (Graham/Rikker)
  9. Bowen, Sarina, Speakeasy (Alec/Mae)
  10. Bowen, Sarina Fireworks (Benito/Skye)
  11. Dare, Tessa The Wallflower Wager (Gabriel/Penny)
  12. Dare, Tessa novella His Bride for the Taking (Sebastian/Mary)
  13. Kelly, Carla The Unlikely Master Genius (Able/Meridee)
  14. Kelly, Elizabeth Christmas Rescue (Elias/Ivy)
  15. Kennedy, Elle The Risk (Jake/Brenna)
  16. Kleypas, Lisa Devil’s Daughter (West/Phoebe)
  17. Lang Ruby Acute Reactions (Ian/Petra)
  18. Lang, Ruby Hard Knocks (Adam/Helen)
  19. Long, Julie Anne Lady Derring Takes a Lover (Tristan/Delilah)
  20. Long, Julie Anne Angel in a Devil’s Arms (Lucien/Angelique)
  21. Milan, Courtney Mrs. Martin’s Incomparable Adventure (Violetta/Bertrice)
  22. Morton, Lily Rule Breaker (Dylan/Gabe)
  23. Parker, Lucy The Austen Playbook (Griff/Freddy) – FANTASTIC
  24. Reid, Penny A Marriage of Inconvenience (Dan/Kat)
  25. Reid, Rachel Game Changer (Scott/Kip)
  26. Reid, Rachel Heated Rivalry (Ilya/Shane) – GREAT
  27. Thorne, Sally 99 Percent Mine (Tom/Darcy)
  28. Walker, N.R. novella Red Dirt Heart Imago (Charlie/Travis & Lawson/Jack)
  29. Walker, N.R. Switched (Israel/Sam)
  30. Walsh, Brighton Our Love Unhinged (Cade/Winter)
  31. Walsh, Brighton Second Chance Charmer (Cade/Winter)

2018 READING LISTS:

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The Brothers Sinister Series: The Suffragette Scandal by Courtney Milan

The Suffragette Scandal is an instant classic and a master work of romantic fiction.

In a genre that wallows in cultural necrophilia, you have to love characters fighting actively against the  aristocracy and existing power structures. Or at least I do. Apparently, so does author Courtney Milan because she is doing it again in a novel that is easily one of the best historical romances ever written and one that simultaneously subverts and embraces the genre. Never afraid to beat romance tropes about the head and shoulders, The Suffragette Scandal, like The Countess Conspiracy before it, takes feminism and themes of identity and wraps a love story around them.

In 1877 Cambridgeshire, Frederica Marshall, Free to her friends, runs a newspaper that is, by, for, and about women and the issues they face, much like the romance genre. A radical who has chosen her battles carefully, she is the target of derision and efforts to silence her. Into Free’s life walks Edward Clark. He approaches her with a warning that someone is trying to sabotage her and an offer to help stop him. He makes it clear that he is not doing so out of altruism, he claims to be incapable of it, but because the enemy of his enemy is his friend. Already aware of the challenge Edward mentions, she decides to trust him even when he says she shouldn’t. Free knows better than Edward. She knows better full stop.

Free’s current problem comes in the form of Lord James Delacey, a man whose overtures she had the temerity to reject. It would seem farcical that a man should react so extremely to rejection, if we didn’t know that it is sometimes so sadly true. A woman standing up when virtually the whole world is telling her to sit down, Free makes a convenient public target for Delacey’s ire:“That’s precisely it. You said no, so that is what I am giving you. No newspaper, no voice, no reputation, no independence.”

Spending her life lighting candles against the darkness, Free is a magnificent character. Sanguine and undaunted, she hides none of her intelligence and knows she should not have to. She is not naive, she knows what she faces, but she has decided who she will be and acts accordingly. Her choices have a price she is willing to pay and she finds strength in small victories and in laying the groundwork for the victories to come, even the ones she knows she will never see. Her swain is one of those alluring rogues one encounters in romance. Edward has a disaffected view of the world and of himself, but he is also heartbreaking, appealing, and understandable. As a younger man, he tried to stand up and was forced down so violently that he tells himself he has withdrawn from considerations of right and wrong. Free makes him see that “maybe pessimism was as much a lie as optimism” and in each other they find a suitable partner to stand against the world with.

I cannot possibly do The Suffragette Scandal justice. It is everything a romance novel can be when giving full rein to the genre’s central tenet of a woman’s right to self-determination and in conjunction with Milan’s undoubtedly masterful skills as a writer. It’s a glorious homage to the brave and quiet warriors of the world insisting on what is right. It’s romantic. It’s funny and moving and entertaining. It’s on sale now and you should buy it.

Reviewer’s Note: As a captious reader (I maintain a list), I want to give kudos to Milan for the little details, too, such as the fact that Free’s long hair is held up by nineteen pins instead of the usual two, and, although Free is “small but mighty”, Edward acknowledges that their height difference makes kissing somewhat awkward.

A complete summary of Courtney Milan’s catalogue, with recommendations, can be found here.

Links to my other reviews can be found on my complete reading list of books sorted by author or Author Commentary & The Tallies Shameful.

 

Dreaming of You by Lisa Kleypas

I keep mentioning Dreaming of You in other reviews and it is on my overall recommendations list, so it seemed time to reread it and include it here. A classic of the genre originally published in 1994, Dreaming of You is part of the historical romance canon, if such a thing exists. It’s splendid, slightly dated, and Derek Craven is one of the greatest men in the genre. Complicated, brilliant, and intense, he is the supreme up-from-the-gutter hero. He would and did do almost anything he needed to survive and prosper. His heroine is pretty spectacular as well. The reader meets her when thugs are attacking Derek and she shoots one of them in the face.

Seemingly shy and demure, Sara Fielding writes about the underbelly of Victorian London. Her novel about a prostitute named Matilda was a great success and helps earn her the access she needs for her work on the gambling dens that straddle the worlds of the poor and the elite. Saving Derek’s life gains her permission to visit his luxurious gaming establishment for research as long as she stays out of his way. She doesn’t. She is brave, kind, and quietly relentless in both her literary pursuits and in encouraging Derek to allow himself to share his life with her. In coming together, neither one in any way compromises who they are, rather they are able to come more fully into themselves and fit together.

Dreaming of You has everything: a tortured hero; the reformation of a rake; opposites attracting; a wallflower who becomes a victim of circumstance; self-made characters defying society to enter its upper echelons; and an absolute bitch of a villain. Kleypas is able to balance it, ALL OF IT, because of the sincere love story and her, as always, exceptional smolder. I don’t care if elements are dated, I adore the love story and cannot endorse the novel highly enough.

Dreaming of You has a follow-up novella called Against the Odds which is mostly about Derek and Sara’s daughter, but let’s be honest, one only reads it for a chance to revisit two favourite characters. It does not disappoint.

A complete summary of Lisa Kleypas’s catalogue, with recommendations, can be found here.

Links to my other reviews can be found on my complete reading list of books sorted by author or Author Commentary & The Tallies Shameful.

 

The Scandalous, Dissolute, No-Good Mr. Wright by Tessa Dare

The Scandalous, Dissolute, No-Good Mr. Wright is a gem. A delightful Regency romance pared down to its bare bones, this quick read is a perfect of example of what a novella can be and why I love them. There are no machinations, diversions, or distractions. Tessa Dare provides a witty, bright, engaging love story focused entirely on the winning main characters.

Owing to a pubescent scandal, Eliza Cade has been sentenced to wait to enter society until her older sisters are married. Hers is an adventurous spirit and Eliza is clamoring against the wait for her life to begin. Nonetheless, at the age of eighteen, she manages to encounter the scandalous, dissolute, no-good Mr. Harry Wright at a party when he has tucked himself away in a side room waiting for an assignation to begin. Harry takes to Eliza instantly and it is clear they are well matched, but she is too young and he too worldly for anything to come of their undeniable appeal for each other.

The novella proceeds to bounce through their subsequent encounters, some separated by a year or more, as Eliza matures and Harry tries to manage, and eventually succumbs to, his attraction to her. It is never once inappropriate or discomfiting. Rather, it progresses from “I recognize myself in you” and “you are such fun to talk to” towards deeper, mature feelings. The story is entertaining, consistently funny, and absolutely charming, plus it’s only $.99 for your e-reader.

A complete summary of Tessa Dare’s catalogue, with recommendations, can be found here.

Links to my other reviews can be found on my complete reading list of books sorted by author or Author Commentary & The Tallies Shameful.

 

The (Shameful) Tally 2014

February 2015: Links to my other reviews can be found on my complete reading list of books sorted by author or Author Commentary & The Tallies Shameful which includes all of the books I have read to date.

This is the yearly reading list I maintain.

Recommended books are in bold, but here is a ruthlessly streamlined recommendations list:
So You Want to Read a (Historical) Romance, this is an
ALPHABETICAL LIST OF ROMANCES BY AUTHOR, and these are
Things That Occur to Me While Reading Historical Romance Novels.

The Autobuy List
Tessa Dare
Lisa Kleypas (except Crystal Cove)
Julie Anne Long
Sarah MacLean
Courtney MilanThe. Very. Best.

The Auto-Library/Cheap on Kindle List
Jennifer Ashley –  I love/hate her. I don’t recommend her.
Mary Balogh – predictable, but safe, well-written
Loretta Chase –  reliable, sometimes great
Meredith Duran – great character studies
Suzanne Enoch – B+ list
Elizabeth Essex – potential
Laura Florand – steamy and romantic contemporaries
Juliana Gray – B+ list, really strong, almost an autobuy
Cecilia Grant – interesting, massive potential
Lorraine Heath – B- list, so if there’s absolutely nothing else, maybe
Carla Kelly – sweet Regency romances, large back catalogue, newer work has Mormon themes
Caroline Linden – off to a good start, great potential
Julia Quinn – An excellent place to launch your reading. Start with The Bridgertons

Malin has excellent reviews on her site, and a broader range of books.

Name Tally August 31, 2014: Simon (8); Michael (7); Sebastian (7); William (7); Robert, Alec/Alex (5); Colin, Jack, Harry, James(4); Benedict, Charles, Edward, Gabriel, Gareth, Jackson, Julian, Lucien, Marcus, Tristan (3); and only one David.

My Favourite Characters

Other Authors and My Reading List for 2014 Are After the Jump

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Welcome to Temptation and Bet Me by Jennifer Crusie

To sum up:

duck soup 1

Jennifer Crusie’s Bet Me is number 15 on All About Romance’s readers poll of the Top 100 Romances of all time* and Welcome to Temptation comes in at number 20. I managed to take four of Crusie’s books out of the library, but not the one I really wanted which was Bet Me. I put it on hold and then just bought the darn thing on Amazon anyway. It was worth it, Bet Me is a definite keeper.

Welcome to Temptation

This was an extremely entertaining read. Sophie and her sister arrive in Temptation, Ohio to film a C-list actress’s demo reel and it expands into a full movie of dubious content. The internecine political squabbles only a small town can provide are the backdrop for Sophie to fall in love with the Mayor, Phineas (Phin) Tucker.

Welcome to Temptation was frequently laugh out loud funny. Crusie created likeable and believable leads with excellent chemistry and a sexy, light-hearted tone. There are multiple players and machinations to track and the whole thing careened along very enjoyably, buoyed by its own charm, until it veered into farce. Let’s just say that it’s a lot of larceny for one small town and the resolutions were ludicrous in proportion to events.

Bet Me

This was one of those books you read while quietly adjuring, “This is so awesome, please don’t mess it up, please don’t mess it up, this is so awesome, please don’t mess it  up.” Crusie did not mess it up. The Come Here Go Away went on a bit, but Bet Me was absolutely delightful, a fantastic read that I highly recommend.

Do you need to know the plot, too? Fine. Minerva overhears an Adonis making a bet with her former, for all of thirty minutes, boyfriend that said Adonis, Calvin, can’t get Minerva into bed inside a month. Everything is exactly and absolutely not the way it appears. There were subplots involving an ex-girlfriend of Calvin’s and Min’s ex-boyfriend conspiring against their success as a couple which went on too long and veered into farce; time spent on Minerva’s sister’s impending nuptials which went on too long and veered into farce; and the coming together of Min and Cal’s groups of friends which was just fine and did not veer into farce. That’s still a lot of veering. What exactly is my problem with silly over-the-top fun? I think I need to re-calibrate my willing suspension of disbelief, if I’m complaining that a romance novel is insufficiently realistic.

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Flowers from the Storm by Laura Kinsale

If such a thing exists, Laura Kinsale’s Flowers from the Storm is part of the historical romance canon. It’s a classic of the genre that still appeared at #6 on All About Romance’s 2010 Top 100 List 18 years after publication. I voted on their list for 2013 and included it myself. An intense and sometimes painful read, Flowers from the Storm’s status as one of the best romance novels ever written is completely understandable.

Christian, Duke of Jervaulx is a mathematician and a rake. We meet him acting on both inclinations early in the book: the latter leads to a duel, the former to working with a Quaker academic and his daughter Archimedea, called Maddy. When Christian has an “apoplexy” (stroke) shortly after presenting a mathematical paper, he disappears from their lives until Maddy and her father come to live at a rest home/psychiatric hospital run by her cousin. Christian is a patient and a troublesome one at that. When Maddy meets Christian again, he has been brought very low and is presumed mad. She realises he is “not mad, but maddened” and approaches her cousin saying she has “An Opening”, a spiritual calling, to help Christian. The apoplexy left his language processing centers damaged, but Christian finds he is able to communicate first through mathematics and later with language as Maddy works with him. He recognizes in her a chance to escape the hospital and seeks to do so by any means necessary.

Progressive for The Regency, the hospital is every dehumanizing psychiatric care nightmare rolled into chapters: abuse, restraints, ice baths, isolation. Kinsale shows us Christian’s muddled, struggling mind and I found these sections harrowing and must confess to jumping forward to a less upsetting section of the book to console myself before going back to continue reading chronologically. Mercifully, Maddy and Christian get away from the hospital, but a marriage of convenience is required to prevent him from being sent back as it will give the impression of a fuller recovery.

Romance novels can succeed on many levels, but the best ones have the same thing in common: If a writer can honestly portray the emotional lives of her characters, everything else will fall into place. Flowers from the Storm is not a light-hearted romance, it can be a tough read precisely because the characters are so well drawn and the reader feels their struggles. Christian and Maddy are two puzzle pieces that fit together only because of the situation they find themselves in. In either of their previous lives, their relationship would not have worked. Forced by circumstance, they build something together that is more than they ever would have been separately.

Thank you, Malin, for reminding me that I had not read this yet and for promising me Christian and Maddy would leave the hospital soon when I emailed her in a heart-wrenched panic.

Links to my other reviews can be found on my complete reading list of books sorted by author or Author Commentary & The Tallies Shameful.

Indigo, Night Hawk, & Always and Forever by Beverly Jenkins

New author? NEW AUTHOR!

How did I find a new writer in amongst all the dross? I clicked “African-American”  on the Amazon historical romance sidebar and abandoned Victorian England for nineteenth century North America. HELLO, BEVERLY JENKINS! She’s a great writer and justifiably highly rated on Amazon and Goodreads. I read three of her books in four days and I’ll get to the other two, but first I want to talk about Indigo, her highest-rated book. It is really good. Definitely a “recommend” and possibly a classic.

Northern Michigan, 1859. Born a slave and now a free woman, Hester Wyatt is a “conductor” on the Underground Railroad. As the book begins, she and her fellow conductors are helping a family that has just arrived from the South. The family will move on quickly to Canada, barely stopping to rest and replenish themselves, but their guide was seriously injured during the flight. Severely beaten, the man, known as “the Black Daniel”, cannot possibly be moved. He remains in a secret room in Hester’s basement to be cared for, even as he suspects that someone in Hester’s circle has betrayed him, and more importantly, their work.

Hester nurses the Black Daniel, Galen Vachon, back to health. Initially very difficult to deal with, he relaxes as he heals and they form a tenuous bond before he returns to his work. They each try to forget the other, but when Galen returns in the spring, it is with very serious intentions towards Hester. Objecting to the differences in their stations, Hester holds out against his charm offensive for as long as she can, but ultimately surrenders. Because of the setting, their happily ever after is vulnerable and the reader knows it will be challenged as the American Civil War begins.

Almost any other historical romance written in 1998 would feel dated. Indigo does not (mostly) and I think that is owed to both Jenkins skill as a writer and the seamless way she weaves genuine historical detail into the story. Every once in a while, there is a history lesson/succinct summary of what the reader needs to know about the political and cultural climate at the time. The fraught situation creates a sense of jeopardy that no other romance has ever possessed for me. Normally, I view the “historical” part of the romance as something that creates narrative distance: It’s another world and the clothing is pretty. Indigo is a love story in which the historical context is truly essential. The characters are not real, but the bravery and boldness required in their situation calls out to all of the people who fought against the injustice of a repugnant society.

Night Hawk (also a recommend) and Always and Forever reviews after the jump…

Night Hawk is set in Kansas and Wyoming in the 1870s. The Civil War is over and The Reconstruction is still in force. Jim Crow has not yet reared its ugly head, but endemic racism is always an issue.

Indigo’s Hester was dignified and humble, Night Hawk’s Maggie is a force of nature, bloodied but unbowed. After losing her beloved parents, Maggie has managed to scrape by, occasionally finding sanctuary, but often falling prey to unscrupulous people, and also to her own temper. Her latest mess is the accidental death of her boss while she was fighting off his sexual assault. She is of mixed race and poor which is enough to condemn her in the eyes of the dead man’s father and the community. The local lawman attempts to transport her to another town to await her reprieve in peace, but things go horribly awry and she is passed off to a US Marshall, Ian Vance, “The Preacher”. The book is largely a road trip undertaken by the two as Maggie tries to escape and Vance keeps trying, unsuccessfully, to find another person to deliver Maggie to for safekeeping so he can go home to his ranch.

Night Hawk was the first Beverly Jenkins books that I read. It’s clever and well-paced, not to mention laugh out loud funny. One thing I particularly enjoyed about all three of these books is that the couples married a. after much persistence from a scrumptious man who knows a good thing when he sees it and b. in the middle of the story, so that the balance of the book takes on a “you and me against the world” tone. If romance novels are about finding the right partner, it makes sense for that partnership to be used and tested. All men in romance novels are delicious: gorgeous, strong, and sometimes heroic, but in these books they are truly heroes, not just for plotting purposes, but in the context of their times. For the equally heroic women, Jenkins acknowledges something that I often think of with stories set in the past. In our world, beauty can be a gift and a ticket to a better life. For women living in a time when women, especially those of colour, had no power, beauty could be a liability. It certainly was for Maggie.

Always and Forever (SPOILERS)

It’s 1884 and the Civil War is long over, but the dismantling of the Reconstruction and the insidious expansion of Jim Crow laws has created an exodus of African-Americans to the plains and the West. Grace Atwood is contacted by her cousin and told that the men in his community in Kansas need wives. Grace, who owns and runs a bank in Chicago, has just been left at the altar and takes up the project to distract herself. She decides that despite the potential ease of train travel, the risk for mistreatment (being forced to ride in the livestock cars or summarily dumped beside the tracks) at the hands of Jim Crow means a wagon train is the most logical choice. She finds 35 women to join her and sets up the trip, but she needs a wagon master…

Enter Jackson Blake. A former (Jim Crow again) deputy US Marshall, he wants to get back to Texas to clear his name and to lay his ghosts to rest. He hires on with Grace as a way to get there. The book makes it clear that home/Texas is not only not a safe place for him to be, it is not a safe place for ANYONE of colour to be. It is a time of devastating violence and he should not be going back. Jackson’s internal battle between his need to make things right and common sense is one of the central conflicts in the story.

Despite Indigo’s pre-Civil War setting, Always and Forever was actually the most graphic and disturbing in terms of giving witness to the burden and potential horror for people of colour at the time. Indigo reports the experiences of many people, Always and Forever shows us: The hero is actually drawn (as in “hanged, drawn and quartered”) in preparation for lynching what is left of him. It was heartbreaking and extremely difficult to read.

I found the preparation for the wagon train fascinating. Not just organization and purchase of  supplies, but the actual training, practice and extensive coordination the women undertake to get ready. That said, the plotting of this book was actually the weakest of the three. Grace and Jackson consummate their relationship and he decides that it was so amazing she must have been impregnated and therefore they must absolutely, positively get married rightright away. This results in a little more Come here! Go away! than was necessary.

Beverly Jenkins is a very good writer and I am so pleased to have discovered her. Despite the realities of the characters lives, I would not describe the books as dark, but rather as possessing a verisimilitude uncommon in my romance reading experience. There are trauma survivors and victims strewn throughout the genre. In these three novels, the difference is that the characters are at risk of being victimized again. The history lesson interjections are interesting even when they slow things down a bit, and I loved the feeling that Jenkins just really wanted you to know more about the remarkable real people living and working at the time. To her back catalogue!