Raven's Reviews

African American Romance Reviews

Captured by Beverly Jenkins January 27, 2010

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What is so damn sexy about pirates? I mean really. They are unkempt, filthy criminals who don’t exactly jump to the top of the list of groups of men most likely to shower a girl with romance.  And yet…there is just *something* about a pirate.

When I saw that Beverly Jenkins newest novel was pirate novel I was both excited and skeptical.  If a pirate is sexy, then a black pirate is doubly so.  But how can Jenkins write a believable black pirate, especially in a story set in 1778?  Or a believable black heroine in a pirate story?  Who is this black man who captains his own ship?  Who is this genteel black American woman who will resist but eventually succumb the advances of the scoundrel?

What Works
Captured works so well in part because of its historical accuracy.  While I’m a huge Jenkins fan, the historical accuracy of her works is typically not what moves me.  The history lessons she offers in her work–about New Orleans creoles, about the debates concerning racial uplift at the turn of the century, about the underground railroad–are never new information for me.  I enjoy her stories because of the way she brings those events to life through vividly drawn, engaging characters.  But the historical accuracy here is what sold me.  Our hero, Dominic LeVeq (ancestor of the LeVeq men featured in Through the Storm and Winds of the Storm) is the son of a French nobleman and a former slave from Martinique.  Dominic has taken over his father’s ship after his death and will, because of machinations of the plot I won’t give away, turn to piracy to make his living.

Clare is an American slave, traveling with the people who have enslaved her when they come across Dom’s ship.  Clare has been educated alongside a white woman of the same age, and so speaks several languages, has impeccable manners, and intense sense of virtue.   Dom takes her aboard his ship because he wants her to know freedom.  The reasons she resists that freedom are myriad and provide for great drama.

Both of these characters were believable to me, even before I got to the end and saw Jenkins’ customary bibliography and explanation demonstrating the veracity of her tale.  She made me believe that black people in 1778 might conceivably find themselves in this situation.  I was then free to enjoy the rest of the story.

And what a story it is.  Jenkins’ novels are almost always about the seduction of an innocent.  The hero introduces and seduces the heroine into the pleasures of sex and leisure and equality in a relationship.  This one is no different, except that the seduction of Clare, who has lived her entire life as a slave, is especially sweet.  Certainly the sex scenes and the prelude to the sex scenes are delicious.  But the promises he makes to care of her are equally erotic.  At one point, before they consummate their relationship, he tells her:

I’ll feed you mangoes and guavas, and place blooms behind your ear that are more fragrant than perfume.  You won’t have to worry about fetching slippers or fires or cocoa unless it is for your own benefit…. I can’t wait to get you home.”

Really, this book is worth reading for the bath scenes alone.

When he does get her home and all the obstacles to their happiness become clear, the story becomes riveting.  I promise you won’t be able to put the book down until you assured that everything will turn out the way it should.

What Doesn’t Work

What doesn’t work in this novel has very little to do with this novel and everything to do with my knowledge of black history.  Reading about the fictional black towns in Jenkins work or the black island community in this novel, I can’t help but feel that the happy ending is bittersweet.  I know what happens to those utopian spaces blacks built for themselves in the 18th and 19th centuries.  It makes me sad to think as hard as Clare and Dom will work in this book to create a safe community where people can be free, it will nonetheless be near impossible for them to hang on to that space.  But again, that it not at all a failing of this novel as much as it is a result of the melancholy I brought with me to the book.

To conclude, if you haven’t read this book yet, you’re definitely missing out.

Grade: A

 

Who Are We? January 23, 2010

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More reviews are coming, I swear. (I’m actually working on one for Beverly Jenkins in Captured and Bittersweet Love by Rochelle Alers. The actual job for which I’m actually paid is hectic. Stay tuned.)

Angela over at Save Black Romance has a recent post about the audience of AA romance and why, perhaps, it is so hard to pin down that audience.  You should check out the post.  There’s some good back and forth in the comments.  Here’s an excerpt:

For one thing, if you hang around online a bit, you’ll notice that there is a large, and growing segment of black men and women forming communities online (and these are hilarious, smart, pithy folks) AND watching the same TV shows. Yet, somehow, in its current incarnation, I cannot see these people rushing into the store to pick up the latest Kimani or Dafina.  They might read some Zane, or some Eric Jerome Dickey, they’ll probably cop the upcoming Helena Andrews memoir/chick-lit Bitch Is the New Black, maybe some nonfiction written by a black sociologist or historian, but the romance genre is invisible to these people, who admit to being voracious readers.

I find the assumptions here troubling, mostly because of the implication that readers of AA romance aren’t “hilarious, smart, pithy folks.”  The notion of AA romance as “staid and self-conscious” is not one I share.  If you read widely enough in the genre, and here I’m talking about the actual genre, the kind of stuff published by Kimani and Dafina, I think you’ll find that AA romance is no more or less staid than romance written by and featuring non-AA characters.  And I also think there are plenty of writers whose work can’t at all be described as staid or self-conscious (Adrianne Byrd, Gwyneth Bolton, Beverly Jenkins, Rochelle Alers, Brenda Jackson, Roslyn Holcomb–really the list goes on.)  If I’m looking for the kind of story Zane tells or Dickey tells and I find myself reading a Jenkins novel or a Jackson novel, I’ll probably be disappointed.  But it’s sort of unfair to compare to the two.  Their narrative aims are quite different.  Some of the rules by which they play aren’t the same at all.   But, if what I’m looking for is a good story well told, a momentary literary respite from the hustle and bustle of life (and isn’t they what we all mostly want from a good book?), then those “hilarious, smart, pithy folks” would quite enjoy a Bolton novel, I think.

Perhaps part of the problem is that “hilarious, smart, pithy folks” think AA romance is written for their opposite number–boring, dull-witted, unfunny folk.  Maybe the AA romance reading community hasn’t made itself visible enough to people outside it for those people to recognize the diversity (in age, education, geography, income, interests, marital status, etc) of the community.  On the one hand, I see no problem with that.  If AA romance fans want to get together to talk to each other about something they love and remain unconcerned about the world outside, more power to them.  On the other hand, though, there is something to be said for announcing our presence.  So here goes:

I am a 36 year old, happily married mother of two daughters.  I am very well educated and work full time.  I love superhero comic books, the television show Supernatural (in the ongoing IR in my head, the lovely Jensen Ackles is the star), and besides reading about the Eatons from Pennsylvania lately, I have also been reading Zadie Smith’s Changing My Mind and Michael Chabon’s Manhood for Amateurs. I live in the south, vote democrat every chance I get, and listen to NPR obsessively.  I am a black woman living a mostly integrated life.  I am, on occasion, hilarious, smart, and pithy.  On a good day I am all three.

Here I am. 

Who are you reader?

 

Warm Welcome January 11, 2010

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I’m sorry about the delay between posts. The holidays and my actual job have been keeping me very busy. I just wanted to pop in and say how tickled I am at the warm welcome so many of you have given me. I’m glad to know that there are others out there eager to discuss AA romance.

I also want to say how delighted I am that there have been disagreements about my assessment of books, as well as recommendations. I just want to state again that when I review something, I have absolutely no ax to grind. I’m just giving my impression of a book after I’ve read it. If you disagree with that assessment, if you think I missed something or misread something, please let me know. People looking for the next novel to buy will benefit greatly from a diversity of opinions on any given novel.

And, finally (because, really, I do have to go to work), while my reviews so far have been of books I’ve read and own (and will continue to be so for the forseeable future), I am happy to read and review things that are new to me, including new authors and new releases. My goal is a community of lovers of AA romance discussing the good, the bad, and the ugly of AA romance.

 

Gwyneth Bolton’s Hightower Honors December 31, 2009

Lest we think I don’t actually like AA romance, let me tell you about a series I love. 

 If you haven’t read these, you must stop what you’re doing right now and go out and get them.  They are amazing.  Well-written, fun, funny, and SEXY. 

It’s hard to put into words exactly what worked for me about Gwyneth Bolton’s Hightower Honors series.  First of all, they were well-written.  They were a pleasure to read.  Never once did I find myself rolling my eyes at a silly plot contrivance or working hard to suspend my disbelief.  Sure, this series features love at first sight and absolute certainty about someone being THE ONE, but all of that is wrapped in incredibly readable writing and fully drawn characters.

Secondly, there are the Hightower brothers–Joel and Patrick, the firemen, and Jason and Lawrence, the cops.  They are fine, fierce, smart, honorable mahogany-colored protectors of the people.  Bolton manages to give them each distinct personalities and matches them up with equally distinct women.  I wanted to know these men, I wanted to meet these women.  I wanted to spend some time in the Paterson, NJ described in these books.

Third, the secondary characters were to die for.  These books are worth reading for Carla and Aunt Sophie alone.  Never once do the secondary characters seem pointless or marginal to the plot.  Bolton crafts her world so well that we can’t wait to see what Aunt Sophie thinks about the latest Hightower love interest.  We want there to be a family gathering so that Carla can come on stage and say something crazy.  If romance novels are an escape, then the secondary characters in this series help complete a fun world to escape to.

Fourth, the romantic tension in all of them is great.  In my favorite of the series, Make It Hot, Joel and Samantha are attracted to each other from the moment they lay eyes on each other, but their individual issues (she’s vowed to never give her heart to a man with a dangerous job; he wants nothing more than to recover from his injury and return to fighting fires) and personalities (they are both stubborn and outspoken) make it near impossible to give into that attraction.  Here’s an excerpt from the scene where they meet.  Joel is waiting for Samantha.  She’s going to be his physical therapist and she’s very late for their appointment.

He turned to set eyes on a curvy chocolate goddess with flashing brown eyes, flawlessly smooth skin and jet-black hair. She wore her hair in one of those natural styles with twists and it reached her shoulders. Then there was her smile… With a smile like hers she could probably get away with anything.

Anything but keep him waiting.

Forget how captivating she looked. “Do you always disregard your patients’ time like this or is it just me? Because if this is the way you conduct yourself, then maybe I should look into getting another therapist.”

Her head tilted and she took a step back placing her hand on her hip. She glared at him for a full minute before saying a word.

Joel glanced at Lawrence for some moral support and saw his brother had buried his face in the magazine.

No problem. He didn’t need back up for this. Right was right and wrong was wrong.

“Like I said, I apologize. We’re down one therapist today. But that’s not your problem. The gift of understanding isn’t something everyone is born with. So, I’m sorry for giving you the opportunity to exhibit your extreme lack in that area.

Now, if you’ll just follow me, we can get you started.” Her smile took on a decidedly false appearance and gone was the warmth and kindness that seemed to exude from her just a few moments ago.

I love that hand on her hip.  I love the detail of Lawrence hiding behind his magazine.  And Joel, my favorite Hightower brother, having his arrogance challenged.  Everything about this scene makes me happy.  If it makes you happy, too, these books will not disappoint.

And finally, even though we aren’t really supposed to talk about this, these books were HOT.  Sure, hot-ness is subjective.  What turns you on may not turn me on, and vice versa.  But I am telling you–for books without explicit language (no cocks here, only swollen sexes), Bolton turns up the heat.  The sex scenes are sexy, not mechanical.  They are emotional and moving and a pleasure to read.  I’m not afraid to say that they made me a little horny.

If you’re looking for beautiful, hot black love set in a believable, multi-faceted black world, these are the books for you.

Grade: A

 

Jewel Amethyst’s “A Marriage of Convenience” December 29, 2009

 

 This story has many of the things I adore.

 1. Men with accents.  Strike that.  Men with sexy accents.  Good looking men with sexy accents.

 2. Smart men.  Kwabena, our hero, is a sexy Ghanaian scientist.  *Swoon*

 3.  A marriage of convenience.  I will read just about anything that features two people forced to marry (or pretend to be a couple), only to find that they have actually been in love all along.

 4. The shoes on that cover are to die for.

 The Amazon reviews were great.  My cyberspace romance pals dug it.  I was sold.

I have to say, Amethyst works hard to give us a sympathetic heroine.  Tammy is smart, she works hard, and wants only someone to love her and all the curves of her full figure.  When she is jilted by a con artist, leaving her with a broken heart and a huge amount of debt, we feel for her.  I know I did.  She really did seem devastated.

She spends the rest of the book, though, crazy crazy whiny.  The reason Tammy marries Kwabena is because she’s lost her job and is drowning in the financial mess created when her con-artist fiance leaves her at the altar.  In short, she can’t afford the mortgage on the McMansion she bought to share with her new husband.  The obvious answer is to sell the house, move in to a smaller place and put your life back together.  But Tammy just can’t do it.  So, instead, she whines and whines until she marries and then falls in love with Ben.  We could also talk about the fact that Ben is breaking the law by marrying for a green card and could actually have easily stayed in the country through other means (no spoilers), but that would be looking too closely at what is always, even in the hands of a great writer, a flimsy plot.

I like my heroines feisty and funny and competent.  Tammy is none of these.  She’s someone who needs to be rescued and that was a total turn off for me, though it seemed to be a turn on for Ben (and that fact actually makes him a little less sexy, even with the accent).

This book didn’t annoy me like Byrd’s.  Queen of His Heart annoyed me because I think Byrd probably had a better book inside her (and I’m eager to find out if she does–anyone with Byrd recommendations, please let me know).  No, this book gets a C from me because, while well-written (I finished it), I just couldn’t fall in love with the heroine.  Which is a shame, because I really do love a good forced marriage story.

Grade: C

 

Just Who Do I Think I Am? December 28, 2009

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 Let’s start with who I’m not.

I am not an industry professional. I’m not a publisher or editor or agent or author. I don’t pay my bills by reading, liking, or disliking romance novels. I’m simply a girl who reads and has an opinion.

I am not an expert on African American romance. I haven’t read every AA romance author or every AA romance. I have my preferences, just like any reader, but I am willing to give new books and new authors a try. I start every book wanting to love it. Who doesn’t want to fall in love with a good love story?

So, who am I?
I’m a grown-up with a job and some disposable income. I like to spend some of that disposable income on romance novels. But as you know, dear reader, it’s hard to know which novel to buy, especially if it’s an author you haven’t read before. While I find the various online networks/meeting places for readers of AA romance fun, friendly, supportive spaces (and I really really mean that), I’m often disappointed after reading a book all the women rave about. No one ever hates anything. No one ever is lukewarm about anything. Every book is hot. Every hero is to die for. Every heroine is relatable.

That hasn’t been my experience reading and it probably hasn’t been your experience. So I’ve created a space where I can give an honest assessment of the books I’ve read. I’m starting with books on my shelf right now, which means some reviews will be for books many years old; some will be for books just released.  Again, there’s no particular agenda here. Just a space for me to talk about what I liked and disliked about what I read. Hopefully others will find it helpful.

 

Adrianne Byrd’s “Queen of His Heart” December 27, 2009

Okay.  I probably need some introductory post about why I created this blog and just who do I think I am anyway writing reviews of AA romance novels.  That will come later.  I promise.  Right now I’d like to focus on Adrianne Byrd’s Queen of His Heart.

I’d never read a Byrd novel before and everything I heard about this one was promising.  In particular, readers raved about the hero, television produce Keenan Armstrong, and the incredibly hot sex scenes.  Sounds like a winning combination, right?

Wrong!  Wrong! Wrong!

I wanted to like this book.  I really did.  It started off great.  The opening conversation between pals Jalila (our heroine) and friends Martina and Fantasia was hysterical and relatable.  (Actually, Martina wound up being the best part about the book.  Her ever-changing hair color, big butt, and “catch and release” philosophy on men were a hoot.  I want to read a book about her.)  And Keenan’s still broken heart after a disastrous marriage (not to mention his 6’6″ frame and juicy LL Cool J lips) made him incredibly sympathetic.  I was all ready to see how Jalila would become queen of Keenan’s heart.  I was ready to fall in love with them both.

Then they got together.  Then they had sex.  Oh, the sex.

I’m no prude.  I like a steamy, yummy, sexy sex scene as much as the next girl.  I’m not at all turned off by explicit sex.  But this:

“You taste so good,” he murmered, skimming a hand down her body.  “Look at these pretty titties.”  He pulled at her marble-size nipples and then released them so he could watch them bounce and jiggle before his eyes.

Maybe this does it for some people.  Maybe these are just the words some of you want to hear.  But this made me giggle and completely took me out of the moment.  This scene goes on for *pages* and I couldn’t take Keenan seriously AT ALL after this.

And to top it all off, the relationship between them made no sense.  They had, maybe, two conversations before they had really raunchy sex.  Then he’s a jerk about it.  And then more raunchy sex.  And then, LOVE.  Even allowing for the quick pace of contemporary romance (we need to get to the HEA in 300 pages after all), this was just too much.  You’re head over heels for some guy because he put it on you good?  You’ve found your soul mate because you like her titties?  Please.

And finally, the resolution of the story’s main conflict–what to do about the dating reality show Jalila stars in and Keenan produces when the love match is actually happening off-screen–is LAME.  It’s a good conflict really.  I kept reading because I wanted to know how Byrd would manage the disaster.  I love a story that sets up impossible odds.  I love a story that overcomes those odds in believeable ways.  This is not that story.  I won’t ruin it for people who may still want to read this, but it’s totally not worth it. 

There’s was little romantic about this story.  I was really disappointed.

Grade: C

 

 
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