Sunday, November 28, 2021

Review: A Blues Singer to Redeem Him

I've been looking forward to reading A Blues Singer to Redeem Him by Elle Jackson ever since I saw it announced on Twitter many months back. It just took me a couple months to get my mind right with the Lord before reading it. Why? Because I knew the violent backdrop, despite being guaranteed romance's happy ending, was going to be a lot.  Also, a challenge for the author to navigate to make a happy ending "believable" for the reader.  For the most part I think Jackson succeeds.  Unfortunately I feel like the editing let her, and her story, down.

Evelyn Laroque lives in Greenwood, Oklahoma with her educated, affluent parents (Mom is a doctor!) when the Tulsa Race Massacre shows up on the family's doorstep.  While fleeing the city her parents are murdered by a mob, while she and her brother narrowly escape. They end up outside of Kansas City with their grandmother. Her brother buys a farm and Evelyn lives with "Grand," whose health is in decline. Money is tight so Evelyn takes her desperation and dreams to Lorenzo De Luca's speakeasy to get a job as a blues singer.  Naturally he takes one look at her, falls head over feet, and hires her once her audition proves her voice is just as lovely as she is.

Lorenzo is the son of a notorious mob boss, with the baggage you would expect. He severed ties with the family but he's not truly "cut off."  His family's reach, their protection, continue to follow him.  They also start to pull him back in when his cousin and his Black fiancee' are murdered. Their son mercifully is spared, and bundled off with his Black grandparents - where the kid stays off-page.  Anyway, the running theory is that the Ku Klux Klan is behind the deaths, along with the disappearance of young Black women in the city.  Lorenzo, being extremely close to his cousin, vows justice - albeit not in the traditional mob way.  He really wants to put that life behind him.

There's a lot of conflict floating around in this story.  Both Lorenzo's and Evelyn's pasts have been touched (significantly) by violence, and that helps this story avoid a pitfall I was concerned about - that of the hero morphing into a White Savior character. Interracial romance, the historical time period - it easily could have gone this way. He's definitely a protector and this story relies heavily on Rescue Fantasy, but it never goes too far in.  Kudos to the author for walking that tricky tight-rope.

Unfortunately the book could have used a firmer hand in editing. This will make perfect sense to category romance readers, but this story just doesn't hit its "beats."  Some examples include an oily would-be suitor of Evelyn's who is much older and buys her parents car. He's around long enough to leer but then conveniently never shows up again.  I mean, WHY IS THIS SCENE EVEN IN THE BOOK? It serves no purpose. Then you get scenes where things start to escalate with the KKK, as the reader you settle in expecting non-stop action for the next several chapters, then poof! Instead you get romance-y scenes between Lorenzo and Evelyn. The author sets up the jump shot and instead of following through we get an air-ball.

There's also a lot of "I'm not good enough for the likes of her" from the hero. He pushes her away no less than 3 times, and the final instance felt manufactured to necessitate a third act separation. During which time the heroine loses her brain and puts herself in danger that she, logically, should not have been in.  I mean, this is a young woman who survived Greenwood. I get that women can be stupid about men, but Evelyn's choices felt thrust upon her by the story instead of feeling authentic to her character.

There's also a bunch of stuff touched on but not deeply explored when it probably should have been.  For a guy who owns an illegal distillery, we don't get that much background to that side of Lorenzo's business.  There's allusions to crooked cops but there's also mention of the KKK (possibly) disrupting shipments and that's just conveniently dropped entirely. For a while I thought maybe the author was setting up an inside job with one of the secondary characters double-crossing Lorenzo but nope - it just doesn't go anywhere

Which makes it sound like I didn't like this book. I wouldn't say that, but I just found this aggressively OK. Also frustrating, because I think it could have been a really good book with some tighter attention to detail. I know I harp on this a lot but category length is all about not faffing about. Tight, tighter, tightest is the name of the game. And this one felt like it needed to be tighter in several places.  I'm curious to see if we'll get other books set in this world, and certainly the author gives us enough in the way of secondary characters to make a series work.  There's enough on the page here that I'll read the next one should it arrive, but oh what might have been with this one...

Final Grade = C

4 comments:

Lover Of Romance said...

Great review that you have here Wendy. It's always disappointing when the story is missing some tighter detail. I do think it's important to see the attention to that detail, it really makes the difference.

Miss Bates said...

"category length is all about not faffing about": this, exactly.

azteclady said...

"Tight, tighter, tightest" --oh yes, I hate it when there's just dangling threads that not only lead nowhere, however long or short the book. I mean, there are novels in which you have scenes that just set up the characters (or show character development), but if you feel you can drop entire scenes/characters/plot threads, without it affecting character development, or the overall plot, then ::shrug emoji goes here:: it's dead wood that should've been trimmed.

(Isn't that the whole point of "kill your darlings"?)

Wendy said...

Hi all: Yeah, this is a book that was all about untapped potential for me. The execution on much of the conflict "felt off" and needed a firmer hand in the editorial process. Which depresses me because there's a good story here! It just felt under-cooked. Enough here for me to read another historical by the author though and hope for the best.