A few months ago, there was an article in Book Page magazine about Beverly Jenkins and her new novel, Forbidden. Wait – a Michigan historical romance author of color I was completely ignorant of? (Ok, given that I read maybe one or two romances a year, it’s not that surprising.) But being a librarian, I wanted her latest book to stay on the new book shelf where someone could see it and check it out. I took this older book from our collection home instead.
Something Like Love by Beverly Jenkins. Avon, 2005.
It’s 1888. Olivia is a talented seamstress with her own business, but her father is arranging a very distasteful marriage for her. (Do not take the low-cut dress of dubious taste on the cover seriously – she wears modest but fashionable and impeccably tailored dresses in the book.) She gathers up her savings and runs away to the all-Black Kansas town of Henry Adams, featured in Jenkins’ previous romances. On the way there, the train is robbed by handsome Black Seminoles Neil July and Two Shafts. Despite her fear, Olivia gives Neil July a talking-to about stealing from someone else of the race, as well as giving the race a bad name by thieving in the first place. Naturally, this interchange leads to attraction on both sides. But months go by before they see each other again, during which Olivia sets up her business in town, makes friends, and runs for mayor of the town, opposing a “nasty little man” running against both Olivia herself, the idea of a woman in a leadership position at all, and her education and health platform as opposed to his bigger saloon platform.
There is a lot of delightful lost history here. Olivia’s business sense and dressmaking abilities weren’t surprising to me, though I appreciate it both because I enjoy sewing myself and because I have read historical romances where the heroines were engaged in entirely unconvincing careers. The Black Seminoles’ real history makes a quite legitimate robber with a heart of gold back story for Neil July, and it turns out that there were all-Black towns out West, and these actually did have very strong female leadership. I didn’t care for the initial focus on attraction because of manliness and womanliness – those bits felt overdone and stereotypical to me. But Olivia and Neil’s relationship deepened quite satisfactorily, and there were plenty of supporting characters to care about as well. All in all, a delightful way to combine spending time with great characters, some fun sexytimes, and painless learning about buried history. I’ll certainly look for more Beverly Jenkins next time I’m in the mood for a romance.