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Well, it’s Valentine’s Day, and if you are getting your romance from between the covers of a good romance novel and not the covers on your bed*, I have some recommendations for you.
*You can be getting romance from both, that’s ok too.
Sometimes I pick a novel based on a small, innocuous mention from someone whose opinion I trust, and what I thought was going to be an easy read, or a fun one, turns into a new author obsession. HOW had I missed these novels and this author for so long?
These are the romance recs I’m giving you today. The books that I picked up to pass the time that ended up being authors whose entire back catalogues I am scrambling to read, chronologically. Obsessively.
First up: Beverly Jenkins is an African American historical romance writer, and she writes African American heroines. Reading more women of color is on my to-do list this year, especially right now during Black History month, and I was so excited to come across these novels. They were the perfect gateway into her body of work. I can’t even remember who was talking about her newest novel, Breathless, but just a small mention intrigued me. I decided to go back a novel and read the first in her Old West series, Forbidden.
Y’all. It was so good.
This is not the case here. Eddy is fierce, hard-working, straight-talking and believable. Her story is full of sadness and strength, and at NO POINT was I screaming at her to make better choices, or to stand up for herself, or do quit equivocating or … all the other things that drive us all bonkers reading certain types of heroines. This woman knows herself and what she wants, and she is wonderful to read.
She works hard.
“Do you have a hobby or a favorite pastime?”
“Yes. Sleeping,” she said with amusement.
“I worked fourteen-hour days. I’d go home, grab a bite to eat, and go straight to bed because I had to get up before sunrise and do it all over again. There wasn’t time for pastimes or amusements.”
She is plain-spoken and doesn’t back down.
“Good morning, Eddy.”
She didn’t look up. “Good morning.”
He came over to the table. “You know, it’s a shame your skin is so dark. You’re well-spoken, clean, mannerly. You’d make someone a perfect wife, but – “
She did look up then. “Do you always insult women with knives in their hands, Mr. Brown?”
Upon viewing the gleaming blade, his eyes widened. “Uh, um…”
She pointed said knife at the doorway. “Leave.”
“I wasn’t trying to insult you. I was just stating fact.”
He bid a hasty retreat.
Wondering where he’d been when the Good Lord began handing out brains, she went back to what she’d been doing.
She is honest and forthright.
Knowing she’d probably chop him up and season him like the chicken she was still working on, he asked anyway. “Have dinner with me.”
He almost fell off the chair. “You’re saying yes?”
“Because I want to know what it means to be desired.”
Eyeing her wondrously he paused. “Say that again.”
“You heard me the first time. I want to know what it means to be desired.”
He was admittedly speechless. Still filled with wonder, he scanned her slowly. The thought of fulfilling her wish made his groin tighten with appreciative anticipation.
She shot him a sly smile. “Am I too bold?”
“No. Not at all.” Still studying her, he crossed his arms to keep himself seated because he wanted to pick her up, carry her home, and take his time showing her just what being desired meant.
“You look pleased,” she said.
“I’m more than pleased.”
She’s just a wonderful breath of fresh air. And the hero, Rhine, desires her with ferocity and yet is constantly aware of being honorable, doing the right thing by her and by others. Even the sex is on her terms and with her pleasure in mind. It’s a slow sloooooow burn with the two of them, but when they finally start to get together, he is tender and thinks of her and not himself — more than once. The sex is admittedly not as steamy as I would like towards the end, but the slow progression and sweetness are worth it.
The history in this novel is fantastic too. Set in the Old West, in a silver mining town, the saloon that Rhine owns and operates for the black people in town is based on some archaeological evidence of black saloons in the area. The political climate is treated with care and honesty and shines a real light on what it must have been like for that first generation of freed slaves in the western territories.
After I finished Forbidden, I immediately picked up Breathless, which picks up a decade and a half later with Rhine and Eddy’s niece, Portia. Again, Beverly Jenkins is writing a consummate heroine, a woman with her own dreams, her own path laid out, her own quirks. And along comes a man who bolsters the good in her and treats her well.
Here’s the official summary:
A strong-willed beauty finds herself in the arms of the handsome drifter from her past, in this second book in the sizzling series set in the Old West, from USA Today Bestselling Author Beverly Jenkins
As manager of one of the finest hotels in Arizona Territory, Portia Carmichael has respect and stability—qualities sorely missing from her harsh childhood. She refuses to jeopardize that by hitching herself to the wrong man. Suitors are plentiful, but none of them has ever looked quite as tempting as the family friend who just rode into town…and none has looked at her with such intensity and heat.
Duchess. That’s the nickname Kent Randolph gave Portia when she was a young girl. Now she’s a stunning, intelligent woman—and Kent has learned his share of hard lessons. After drifting through the West, he’s learned the value of a place to settle down, and in Portia’s arms he’s found that and more. But convincing her to trust him with her heart, not just her passion, will be the greatest challenge he’s known—and one he intends to win…
I can’t wait to read more from Beverly Jenkins. She’s prolific and just draped in awards! Look her stuff up!
You know how I sometimes pride myself on having read just … all the good M/M romance out there? I’ve read a lot, it’s true. And then along comes a review from one of my favorite gay romance authors (KJ Charles in this instance) for a book from an author I’VE NEVER READ. A great review. A glowing review. Well. I have to pick it up now.
Harper Fox is the author of Seven Summer Nights, and has something like 30 titles to her name, but this is the first one of hers that I’ve read. And I was BLOWN AWAY by this book.
More than just a historical romance, Seven Summer Nights has a mystical, fantastical element to it (that you could honestly ignore if you aren’t into that) that for a fantasy lover like myself made the scenes and the romance and the sex and everything far better.
The prose, the magic, the sense of history – beyond the 1946 setting in the British countryside – but a real feeling of intertwined ancientness and mysticism made this novel feel indelible in a way that very few romance novels can even hope to accomplish.
Here’s the official summary:
It’s 1946, and the dust of World War Two has just begun to settle. When famous archaeologist Rufus Denby returns to London, his life and reputation are as devastated as the city around him.
He’s used to the most glamorous of excavations, but can’t turn down the offer of a job in rural Sussex. It’s a refuge, and the only means left to him of scraping a living. With nothing but his satchel and a mongrel dog he’s rescued from a bomb site, he sets out to investigate an ancient church in the sleepy village of Droyton Parva.
It’s an ordinary task, but Droyton is in the hands of a most extraordinary vicar. The Reverend Archie Thorne has tasted action too, as a motorcycle-riding army chaplain, and is struggling to readjust to the little world around him. He’s a lonely man, and Rufus’s arrival soon sparks off in him a lifetime of repressed desires.
Rufus is a combat case, amnesiac and shellshocked. As he and Archie begin to unfold the archaeological mystery of Droyton, their growing friendship makes Rufus believe he might one day recapture his lost memories of the war, and find his way back from the edge of insanity to love.
It’s summer on the South Downs, the air full of sunshine and enchantment. And Rufus and Archie’s seven summer nights have just begun…
This IN NO WAY prepares you for how different, how full, how fantastic this ensemble character drama is. As I was reading, I could see each character fully as they would be in a short-lived BBC series. I can see Archie’s dog collar and motorcycle. Rufus’ tucked in decade old suit. Mrs. Nettle’s apron, and her honest face. This is much more than a romance. It was a beautiful, wholly engrossing novel. Please pick it up.
In the meantime, I’ll be reading everything else Harper Fox has ever written.
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