by Beverly Jenkins
Release Date: May 28, 2019
Reviewed by Hellie
I have a confession to make. Part of the reason I enjoy historical romance is for the bits of history that I would normally only get if I read dry, boring textbooks. So many times during a bout of Final Jeopardy, when I blurt out an obscure answer, my friends will go, “How did you know that?”, I’ll respond, “I read it in a romance.” And even more, these romances also show how people--heroines like our grandmothers--butted up against the accepted norms of the day and made room for themselves at the table. Nevertheless, she persisted.
Another reason I love and value historical romance is that it instills in us the value of learning and accepting more than one story. I can get so tied into one story about men or a cultural group or even an economic group and forget there are other stories just as true. Now mind you, I love the one story about dukes--I can read that at least once a week--but it’s also good not to read about dukes. Sometimes it’s good to read about other men with power, like pirates...or really handsome architects in Reconstructionist New Orleans.
Blurb: Valinda Lacy’s mission in the steamy heart of New Orleans is to help the newly emancipated survive and flourish. But soon she discovers that here, freedom can also mean danger. When thugs destroy the school she has set up and then target her, Valinda runs for her life--and straight into the arms of Captain Drake LeVeq.
As an architect from an old New Orleans family, Drake has a deeply personal interest in rebuilding the city. Raised by strong women, he recognizes Valinda’s determination. And he can’t stop admiring--or wanting--her. But when Valinda’s father demands she return home to marry a man she doesn’t love, her daring rebellion draws Drake into an irresistible intrigue.
As always, Beverly Jenkins delivers in sensual chemistry between the characters, well-plotted and well-rounded character story building, and fun banter and dialogue between all the characters. I loved the opening scene where the heroine, Valinda, completely shuts down what is sure to be white thugs coming into her school to bully and scatter her school, and she politely and sweetly offers them a spot at her learning table for them to learn to read and write as well. She talks them in such circles, the thugs eventually apologize and leave--which allows all the students to leave unharmed as well. Clever and funny--even during a situation that is anything but.
Other harrowing scenes of realities of the time also play out--but thankfully more favorably with a hero being at the right place at the right time--and you can’t help but root for Valinda who just wants to do what is right and fair for the people of the Race, and not in any sort of way that takes away from anyone else. Valinda is a heroine like all heroines before her: someone who wants fair and equitable treatment; access to education; and respect and dignity as a human being, as afforded to all citizens of the United States under the clause of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” Valinda is a teacher--the kind of teacher we all loved in school--who loves learning and lives for the glee on someone’s face who finally “gets it” and learning opens up for them. She is an advocate and a nurturer.
Drake is a protector--and the best kind of hero: the kind that gets out of his heroine’s way as she pursues her dreams. While stories where the hero and heroine are at conflict because they want the same thing for themselves, I find love stories where each partner is supportive of the other without sacrificing their own happiness. Drake is swoonworthy--and with a backlist of LeVeq brothers who also had love stories (Winds of the Storm: Archer and Through the Storm: Raimond), the competition is fierce on the swoonworthy category. This story will only make you want to hunt out the others from your keeper shelf and give them a thorough re-read.
As Beverly Jenkins remarks in her author’s note, the Reconstruction was a “very volatile and bittersweet time.” Jenkins offers some further resources if the reader is interested in reading more; and I would also recommend the PBS documentary that was presented this spring called: Reconstruction: America After the Civil War. It also goes into detail of some of the practices the former slave-owners tried to enact in order to re-enslave blacks in all but name only. There are also scenes of local groups (pre-KKK) who terrorize the local Freedmen and destroy their property--and realistically, there is no favorable resolution (read: justice) for some of these scenes. These scenes didn’t surprise--I’ve known the history of how the privileged majority has treated African Americans since...well...forever, especially in the South. However, I was surprised with some historical detail, for instance the group of white southern Union soldiers that Drake works with to help curb some of the terrorist group's more terrible actions and also about the Creole families who wished to be treated as a separate group from the freed slave class rather than be labeled by skin color, lumped with them. The post-antebellum history of America is complicated and messy, but Jenkins does her best to touch on many of the issues while still showing triumph in a hard situation. People are good and bad, regardless of skin color--and Jenkins does a good job of showing that in her story.
Don’t worry: this story does finish with a happy ending--just as many other stories of its kind also ended in a happy ending, despite the constant struggle then and now. I highly recommend this book, not only for its trademark Jenkins’ top-notch sensuality and characters, but also for the added benefit of the story itself. Despite my rhapsodising about the historical detail, the story is very much focused on the blossoming romance between Val and Drake--and if you simply want a love story full of well-honed sexual tension, true courtship, and marriage before the consummation, you will love this book. I can’t wait to read the next “Women Who Dare” in the series.