A Willful Woman…

Thoughts about books from a romance addict.

Review: Destiny’s Surrender by Beverly Jenkins

I DNF’d the first book in this series, but Destiny’s Surrender sounded so interesting, I had to give it a try. It was a very different kind of read, and pretty compelling.

Set in San Francisco in 1885, the story opens with an encounter between prostitute Billie and her favorite john, Drew. She’s a little perturbed afterwards to discover her birth control was faulty, and sure enough, she becomes pregnant. This isn’t a book that follows the unwritten rules of romance, however: Billie has no certainty at all that Drew is the father.

The realistic tone continues as we discover that Billie has been pregnant before and had a chemical abortion. It made her so ill she can’t face another, and decides to have the baby and give it up to a good family — or more accurately, let her madam sell it for the money to live on when she has to stop working. However, she didn’t realize how much she would love her baby, and when the time comes, can’t bear to let him go. A convenient birthmark proving parentage, she turns to Drew for help.

Drew’s reaction is also far from typically “heroic.” He’s very angry — the fact that Billie arrives just in time to ruin his engagement to a “suitable” woman doesn’t help — and just wants her and the baby to go away.  But his strong-willed stepmother has other ideas.

I was sorry this story was based on an implausible birthmark plot; I think it could have worked without it. I also disliked the suspense plot, which features a very nasty villain. (This was also why I DNF’d the first Beverly book I tried.) But I really enjoyed Billie, who’s about as far from emo as a person can be; she always faces facts and does what she has to do. This line kind of sums her up: “for Billie birthdays had never been anything to put on the dog for. She acknowledged it when she got up in the morning, then got on with her day.” It’s sadder, in its way, than many a more obviously tragic story. Billie is also brave and resourceful, and makes a place for herself in “respectable” society through those traits.

Drew was less defined as a character, and I would have liked to see less of the nasty villain and more of Drew’s growth as a person. One of the interesting things about this story is that it’s set during a time when black Americans were starting to lose freedoms they previously had, a situation I recently read about in The Warmth of Other Suns. Drew, who is of African-American and Spanish heritage, is a lawyer who finds that judges are refusing to allow him into courtrooms; although he’s from a well-off family and isn’t financially dependent on his career, this is a blow. But not a lot of time is spent on it.

I appreciated how essentially ordinary Billie is – she’s neither exalted as special, nor demonized for her pragmatic reactions to  being poor and pregnant. Contrarily, that made the book something out of the ordinary.

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TBR Challenge: When Bruce Met Cyn by Lori Foster

The Theme: Contemporary romance.

What tickled me: A sexy, celibate, preacher hero is hard to resist.

What ticked me off: Skanky villains. Torso-less heroine. And the heroine’s name: sub-tle.

Who might like it: Fans of gentler, protective Alpha heroes.

Foster has been on my “not my cuppa” list for awhile, but this book hung around the tbr pile because the plot intrigued me. It was a hit and miss book for me, with ultimately more misses than hits.

It’s been five years since she ran away from an abusive home, and Cyn has saved up enough money to give up prostitution and begin a new life. A recurring dream draws her to a town called Visitation; on the way she encounters Bruce, who’ll be the preacher of the town’s new church. Bruce has experience counseling prostitutes in trouble, and slowly wins Cyn’s trust and affection, while grappling with his conscience over his attraction to her. She’s much younger than him, has never had a good relationship with a man, and there’s that whole premarital sex thing. Mostly, he wants her to feel respected and cherished, rather than used. Of course this has Cyn wondering why the hell he won’t just sleep with her already, and questioning his feelings.

The sections of the book focusing on their relationship and Cyn’s new life were enjoyable. Bruce does get somewhat overbearing at times, and Cyn is hard-edged and crude, but they’re sweet together. What brought the story down was a suspense element with really unpleasant villains; perhaps some readers are all for descriptions of perverts masturbating while they contemplate raping and killing, but for some reason I’ve never been a fan. And there’s also a woo woo element which felt forced and out of place, very peculiar sequel bait.

I thought it was interesting that Cyn had tried to understand her childhood by doing serious reading about abuse, but it realistically hasn’t solved all her issues. She tells Bruce, “It’s like… like you were born in a church with a star shining down on you, and I was born…I dunno. Under a rock or something.” She also has some trouble relating to the helpful heroines from previous books of the series:

Shay was nice, nice enough that at times she seemed unreal. Nice enough that she constantly tried to give Cyn a handout. Be it work or contacts or whatever, Shay wanted to help, and it nettled Cyn that she was a person in need of assistance. She understood Shay’s motives, and appreciated them, but she would rather have just been a friend, not a person who stood out as less than equal.

Luna was lovely, too, very warm and friendly. But she went out of her way to show understanding, to include Cyn. And once again, Cyn felt the difference, how she didn’t quite measure up.

There’s some real sensitivity there, and I think this could have been quite a lovely book if it had just stayed with the characters and their developing relationships, instead of throwing in all the other stuff.  Cyn’s genuine feelings simply disappear, and the other women are suddenly her very best friends. And the gentle Bruce just becomes more and more alpha as the story goes on, forcing Cyn to fight for her independence.

I wouldn’t say I’m sorry I read it, but I don’t think Foster is moving off the list.

 

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