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


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