So I realize it’s Easter Sunday and I am posting on romances. It was not intentional.
You can guarantee this Easter Sunday for me is mired in family, wholesome goodness. A hidden basket and eggs filled with candy I have not quite managed to avoid snacking since I bought them two weeks earlier.
Jellybeans are really a weakness for me. I like the Starburst and the Jolly Rancher sours. How am I expected not to sample Jolly Rancher sour wildberry mix? I’m only human. One who is easily delighted by artificial colors and flavors. Just like nature intended.
And as a funny aside, somehow the mysterious creature in my basement ate only my son’s chocolate bunny while the Easter edibles were stashed down there. Not my husband’s required PB bunny, the peeps which were decidedly easier to get to packaging wise, or the pistachios that I know my hubs will be pleased to see in his prize pile. I say pile because his basket is now my son’s basket.
Also: my son has bought into the toys that you have to open to see which one you got. He’s so much my kid.
So BookRiot wanted me to read a historical romance by an AOC and since I have little background in romances I went for two classic historical romance AOC’s. Not ashamed. They know what’s good and I can recognize expertise when I see it. You really didn’t have to twist my arm to read either of these books. I love novels in a historical setting, and each of the two balance the context and the romance differently, but there were some similarities, other than both heroines having dark skin and loving sex more than a typical woman in that time and place.
A Historical Romance by an Author of Color:
Tempest, Beverly Jenkins
I don’t typically read books about the American West, but I am often intrigued when I do. It’s easy to forget how hard life was out there, how removed people were from the comforts and the action of the east. Regan, the heroine, moves from her comfortable existence in Arizona to remote Wyoming as a mail order bride for a widower (Dr. Colton Lee) and his daughter. She is nothing like her new husband’s first wife, not to mention the fact that he isn’t even looking to fall in love again, merely have a placeholder in his home. Added to that is some drama with some stagecoach robbers on her way in that not only add a subplot but also set it up for a dramatic first time face to face meeting with her husband. Definitely ideal.
I found that the romance in this story was more pronounced than the historical context. I didn’t realize until the notes at the end that the heroine’s backstory was the subject of two earlier books in the series, which is a credit to Jenkins for how well it stood alone. I felt the background was discussed adequately in the course of the story for everything to make sense. There is a decent amount of sex, especially sex outside the bedroom and then emotional conflict afterward over the doctor trying to keep his heart to himself, which of course he can’t.
There were times I felt the historical context was a little forced. It starts off more with the romance, which had me hooked, but then it seemed like some of the parts about the Dr having to go help the victims of the railroad strike were added in kind of as a sidebar. It slowed things down a little. I felt the drama around the stagecoach shooting was more integral to the plot, especially when she was not able to testify in court due to her color. And the part where there were some racial frictions between the people in the town, although the people out there probably had to work together a little more to survive and likely couldn’t really afford to be racially segregated. And the part where Native Americans were even lower on the chain. The author clearly had more of the romance in mind on this one, especially in contrast with the next book in this post, another quintessential book in the historical romance genre:
An Extraordinary Union, Alyssa Cole
An African American woman and a Scottish man are spies together for the Union Army at the beginning of the Civil War. Very cool premise and very much entwined in its historical context. Of course they get together, as it is required of this genre, and their obstacles to getting together have to do with their color and their place in history.
This book was more evenly split between history and romance than Tempest. There is a lot of action related to the war that keeps things going in addition to the romantic tension and the lover’s quarrels. I’m wondering if this is a popular novel because it uses the context so well.
I noticed a few glaring similarities between these books that I don’t think make them entirely historically accurate, which is the progressive attitudes of both the male and female characters.
For the male characters, they have some emotional awareness and take accountability when they mess up, mainly due to jealousy. Now, I don’t think that this was expected of men/husbands to be emotionally aware and accountable to their wives in their historical context. In An Extraordinary Union, not only does he have to be open minded about her previous sexual experience (neither of these women are virgins and both male characters accept it eventually rather than treating their ladies like damaged goods and wanting to marry them anyway) he also has to be open minded about the fact that she isn’t white and of his class and how those things affect her and has an extraordinary talent that other men were threatened by. There is enough of his past history to explain why his attitude is more open minded, but it still felt like a stretch. In Tempest, Dr. Lee acts upset when he meets the man that his wife had a previous relationship with and is jealous about it too, even though he’s the husband, but eventually apologizes.
For the women, their blatant enjoyment and knowledge of sex seems unrealistic. Even when women did enjoy sex in their day they were not supposed to show it because they wouldn’t look respectable. Both of these women were wildly sexual and neither of them had men who insulted them for it. I don’t even see that consistently in this day and time.
Also, I noticed the words to describe the sex were carefully chosen words that were less likely to make readers uncomfortable.
All of these together and present in both books makes for, in my opinion, some anachronistic qualities. I know the books wouldn’t have worked without them and heroines in this genre need to be spunky. I know why it had to be that way. I do. But this might not be a go to genre for me just because it’s not consistent with the context. They were good on the other parts I liked. The sex was hot, the characters likeable and sympathetic and I liked the heroes. Of course I liked the heroes, they were written to appeal to modern women. Even if the whole time I’m like, dudes weren’t really like that.
So I hope my readers have lovely Easter holidays and if they feel like something steamy in a historical context and can suspend a little disbelief that they will consider these reads.