About the Book
- Beverly Jenkins
For this newest installment in the FYA Grown-up Guide, we’re heading west! The American Western Frontier isn’t anything new for romance novels, but a cast of Black and biracial heroes and heroines kind of is. The romance industry has always skewed pretty heavily white, despite the fact that authors of color have always existed within the community and the Romance Writers of America association was founded by Black editor and author, Vivian Stephens. Over the last couple of years, there have been some illuminating public discussions regarding racism within that organization and in the industry in general. Luckily, with the romance industry booming, there are more BIPOC novels than ever before, and this week, we delved into the catalog of longtime bestseller, Beverly Jenkins. Jenkins has been writing contemporary and historical novels since the early ‘90s and draws inspiration from African American history for her multicultural romances.
Now, let’s meet the Yates brothers!
Sub-Genre: American West, specifically post-Gold Rush and pre-Spanish American War
What to Expect: Hard-headed Rancher Men, Plucky Heroines, Diversity, Good Variety of POVs
The Yates brothers of 19th century California are devoted to their mother, their family ranch, and to sowing their wild oats well into their 30’s. Enter three very different women from very different backgrounds who are destined to make their way to Rancho Destino.
From Fancy Dress to Fabio:
The covers went for classic heaving bosoms and outdoor clinches, which is at least pretty accurate for this series. But shoutout to whoever decided all the men also had to be shirtless. A+ choices.
Destiny’s Embrace (Destiny #1) – Reviewed by Stephanie
Rancher Logan Yates is serious about only a few things: keeping his family’s ranch running and breaking in the new wild horses he and his cowboys find in the California hills. Cleaning house? Not a priority. So his well-meaning stepmom puts out an advertisement for a live-in housekeeper. Mariah Cooper’s well-meaning aunt knows just how rough Mariah’s had it growing up as her dressmaker mother’s servant more than her daughter. So she answers the ad on Mariah’s behalf and sets her niece on a cross-country adventure. Logan and Mariah instantly butt heads as only two stubborn people can, but the longer they spend together, the more they realize perhaps they alone can smooth one another’s rough edges.
The Leading Lady:
Mariah’s skills with a needle and thread made me wish I was even halfway competent at sewing. Getting things tailored is so expensive! Mariah did most of the thankless work at her horrible mother’s dress shop (she even stole Mariah’s designs to pass off as her own!) before she broke free for California. It amused me how Mariah learns that, away from her mama, she’s actually quite bossy.
The Leading Man:
Logan is a manly macho man from the 19th century, in that he’s fine living in a pigsty if he has to be the one to clean it and believes he’s right most of the time. But he does take advice from his step-mom and also learns to compromise, so I guess he has potential.
Risque Ranking: Too Far From The Fire
There was a lot of insta-attraction, which, I mean, it’s a romance novel, that tends to happen, but the entire romance from “ugh, you don’t even know how to pee in the bushes; you’ll never survive out here!” to “feel free to decorate my entire house however you want it and oh, purchase all the jewelry you want, you deserve it!” takes place in the span of, like, a week. Wham, bam, thank you, ma’am indeed.
Mrs. Perky’s Prize for Purplest Prose:
“She was covered in sweat. He was as well. He raised her legs, pulled her closer with a hold on her ankles and plunged in and out of her flesh like a scandalous hummingbird seeking the most wanton of nectars.”
Was it Good For You?
Rosemary: This was my first foray into American West romance! I loved the diversity of Jenkins’ cast, the California ranch setting, and the way Jenkins’ writes female friendships. Usually, if sexy times don’t happen until later in a story, it can be super hot when characters so much as brush hands, but I wasn’t really feeling the heat between Mariah and Logan, and there wasn’t much in the way of sex scenes until much later, so Destiny’s Embrace felt pretty tepid to me overall.
Stephanie: I wanted to like this because I’ve been meaning to read Beverly Jenkins for a LONG time, but I closed the cover and was left feeling underwhelmed. The 19th century California setting was by far my favorite part (love a good historical setting where I can learn and be entertained), along with the diversity of characters in a time period I’ve never really seen paired together. But ultimately the romance just happened way too quickly and without enough chemistry to titillate me. You know who I would’ve preferred a book about is Logan’s stepmom (I am completely blanking on her name) finding a true, real love to settle down with (the quick summary of her life at the beginning was VERY dramatic and soapy).
Kandis: Like everyone else, I really loved the setting and learning more about this point in history, especially from different perspectives. I bought the romantic chemistry, even though it came SUPER fast. But the most interesting part of the story for me was Mariah’s journey. To escape life with her abusive mother in Philadelphia and travel across the country in search of a new life was brave as hell, and every time she stood up for herself, I cheered. If anyone ever deserved a happily ever after, it’s Mariah.
Sarah: I would rank this book more highly as historical fiction, less so as romance. Jenkins does an excellent job of peppering the story with historical anecdotes (I’d never heard of Queen Califia!), and I adored the California ranch setting. Also, and this is no small thing, I really appreciated Mariah’s perspective as a Black woman and how different her experience was in this time period versus the typical romance novel heroine. With that said, Mariah and Logan’s chemistry fell flat for me, to the point where I was basically just reading for the history and nearly skimming the sexy bits.
Destiny’s Surrender (Destiny #2) – Reviewed by Kandis
Billie and Drew have actually known each other for years, as she’s his favorite brothel worker in San Francisco. But they meet again when Billie suddenly arrives at his family ranch, on the run from bad trouble, with Drew’s surprise one-year old son in tow. A forced marriage puts a kink in their relationship, but it’s not long before Billie and Drew remember why they were drawn together in the first place.
The Leading Lady:
Wilhelmina “Billie” Wells is one of the most popular girls at the Black Pearl. She’s a whore, and she’ll tell you so. (It was the common descriptor for her line of work at the time, but yikes.) When Billie finds herself suddenly married into a rich ranching family and left to navigate it all on her own, she strives to fit in and to become a valued member of her new family and community without ever apologizing for who she was. She’s tough and resilient, and cheerfully gives her mother-in-law sex advice. She’s a completely unconventional romance novel heroine.
The Leading Man:
Drew is the most charming of the Yates brothers. He makes his living as an attorney in San Francisco, with frequent travel to Mexico as he helps defend Spanish families’ land grants. As Billie’s favorite customer, he wined and dined her and treated her to fancy hotel suites. But he’s finally decided it’s time for him to settle down and marry a respectable lady when Billie blows back into his life with his son, Tonio. Unsurprisingly, he’s a total asshat about the situation, but he eventually comes around and redeems himself, once he realizes they could make a real marriage and family out of this mess.
Risque Ranking: 8
Billie has an orgasm on page one of the book, if that tells you what you need to know. There’s no virginal jitters here and Billie is pretty frank and practical about enjoying sex, so even when she thinks that’s all Drew wants her for, she’s still game. But once these two stop fighting and agree to make a go of it, things get back to being steamy pretty fast.
Was it Good For You?
Kandis: This one is my favorite of the series. As Sarah mentions below, this book has everything. There’s all the thrills of escaping a murderer, plus the scandal once Billie’s past is revealed, and we get more Alanza, the greatest mother-in-law in the history of mother-in-laws. Not many women of the time would have embraced Billie as their son’s new wife given the circumstances, but she not only does that, she’s the one who makes them get married in the first place. (And she was right, because Alanza is always right.) I loved how Billie got to evolve as a person and develop new friendships as she finds her place at Rancho Destino. And because she and Drew have known each other so long, their love felt more believable.
Sarah: I enjoyed this second installment way more than the first book in the series, mostly due to all the scandalous, juicy drama. Murder! Poisoning! Brothels! Kidnapping! Shizz got real exciting, real quick, and I’m not just talking about Billie’s orgasm on the first page. While the romance wasn’t my favorite aspect, it certainly helped that Billie and Drew had been seeing each other for years so Jenkins could avoid the insta-love from the first book. And I dug the fact that Billie was obviously very experienced, i.e. sexually empowered. But once again, the hotness was less compelling than the history (land grants! Leslie’s Weekly!), though even that was overshadowed (in a good way) by all of the racy action! I also dug the addition of Tonio (such a cutie) and the chance to spend more time with Alanza, who is clearly the best character in the whole series. “Smart-mouthed females are prized here,” she tells Billie. Someone cross-stitch that on a pillow for me!
Destiny’s Captive (Destiny #3) – Reviewed by Rosemary
The youngest Yates brother, Noah, has probably had the roughest go of them all. While celebrating his 18th birthday, he was Shanghai’d and forced into labor for the better part of a decade. But now, having survived and escaped his captors, he owns his own ship and a successful trade business. At least, he did own his own ship until the night he found himself tied to his own bed and the captive of Pilar Banderas, a beautiful Cuban girl descended from a long lineage of pirates.
Noah swears revenge against Pilar for stealing his ship, and when at last they meet again, he gets it: by marrying her.
The Leading Lady:
Pilar Banderas is a BAD ASS. She’s a lady pirate! Who works for the Cuban rebels! She can wield a sword and train horses and fears no one! From the start I was a huge fan of Pilar. And while she pretty much remained a bad ass throughout the story, I was disappointed that the plot took her out of her natural habitat. I wanted more lady pirate adventures, and was bummed when she spent her days shopping for dresses instead.
The Leading Man:
Noah is supposed to be suffering from PTSD after his time in captivity, but other than the occasional nightmare, his PTSD didn’t really seem to be an issue until it was, like, a huge issue 90% through the book. Maybe this is how PTSD works IRL, or maybe this was not a great exploration of it, I’m not sure. Overall, Noah seemed like a pretty great guy. I mean, his idea of revenge is marrying the woman who stole his ship, forgiving her immediately, and then showering her with dresses and jewelry and sex and immediately bringing her into his family.
Risque Ranking: 4
I think more than anything what this book suffered from was my super high expectations. When you tell me a lady pirate takes a hot dude captive and steals his ship, I’ve really got high hopes for some hot enemistry. But there was almost none! Noah and Pilar get married, forgive each other and fall in love. Boring!
Was it Good For You?
Rosemary: As a romance novel, it was pretty meh. I really need more tension between my main characters to consider it sexy. Sure it had sex scenes, but they felt more sweet than hot. I love love loved the idea of a beautiful pirate stealing Noah’s ship, but in the end that wasn’t what we got. Once Noah sweeps Pilar away from Cuba back to Rancho Destino, the story lost a lot of its luster for me.
Kandis: Based on the meet cute (and hello, the cover) I thought we were going to get some adventures on the high seas. So, it felt kind of like false advertising here. Noah’s story was definitely rougher than I imagined. His PTSD was completely understandable, and it was sad that he didn’t feel like he could confide in anyone about it for such a long time. As for Pilar, I have pretty much the same issues as Rosemary. She starts out a strong and promising lady pirate, and then she endures a rough train journey across the country (sometimes passengers of color had to ride in the cattle car!) as Noah’s bride, and that’s pretty much it for her gun-smuggling rebel days. There’s some discussion of Pilar needing something to replace her little hobby of fighting for Cuba’s independence, but all she gets to do is to break a stallion. Although, given the time, that was probably the American West equivalent of a woman wearing pants and smoking cigars. Pilar’s downgraded story kind of spoiled the romance for me.
Are you a fan of Beverly Jenkins? Bring me your romance recs to the comments! And join us next week, when we’ll be talking about the Big Bad Wolf Series by Charlie Adhara.
FTC Full Disclosure: We did not receive money or cocktails for writing these reviews. The Destiny Trilogy is available now.