Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Average Land

I seem to be on a string of "average" books. These are the books that are neither good nor bad. They're just sort of "there." The true definition of a "C" student.

I finished my latest average read on my lunch break today - Something Like Love by Beverly Jenkins. I'm not sure how to talk about this book without revealing spoilers, so consider that your warning.

The heroine is a spinster in her early 30s. She was raised to have opinions, value education and to know her own mind. So when her father tries to force her into a marriage she does not want, she is naturally not happy. She sells her dress shop (she's a very successful seamstress/business woman) and runs away to an all-Black settlement in Kansas. She adapts quite nicely, opening a new shop and even becoming mayor.

Enter the hero - a Black Seminole who, after the government breaks yet another promise, opts for a career in train robbing. He crosses paths with the heroine and is immediately smitten. But given his career, and her being a "lady," a relationship isn't terribly practical.

I have to say that the heroine really carried this book for me. Oh sure, she's a 30 year old virgin. I will admit this sort of thing bothers the hell out of me (even in historicals) mainly because so often in romances virgin = incredibly clueless. However no one could accuse this heroine of being clueless (until the end, more on that in a bit). She truly does know her own mind. When the villain disparages her virtue - let's just say he's the one who ends up all wet. She is also capable enough to run a very successful business, has formal education and just all around kicks ass. For lack of a better description - the girl's got moxie.

The problem here is the plotting. The book isn't very tight at all. Early on it reads like a series of episodes and it never comes together into a cohesive whole. Also, the hero is an outlaw, which makes resolving some plot points problematic. No mistake - he's guilty as sin, but you can't have a romance novel ending with the hero going to prison! So to resolve this matter the author tosses in an arranged marriage that just does not work. For one thing, the previously level-headed heroine seems unprepared for the fuss this marriage kicks up. Um, hello?! You're the mayor! He's an outlaw! Blessedly this comes very late in the book, so it's not like I had to wade through it for too long, but it just seemed jarring and out of place.

Something Like Love features many secondary characters tied to Jenkins other historicals. This was one instance though where I felt the series was "loosely connected," so it was fine that I was reading this book out of order from the others.

Will I read Jenkins again? Yes. Despite the pacing issues I had with this book (my main complaint), I'm cutting the author some slack. This book was turned into her editor 5 months late due to her husband's illness and subsequent passing. I guess this makes me a softie - but it's apparent that Jenkins writes the type of heroines I like, and her glimpses of history were well thought out and researched.

I was informed by a fellow TRR reviewer that Jenkins earlier work is very hard to find - but it appears they should be easy to come by via ILL (god bless InterLibrary Loan). The next one I'll try? Probably Vivid - which is set in Niles, Michigan - not far from where I grew up and practically next door to my first "real" professional library job.

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