Review: Breathless by Beverly Jenkins (2017)

The Rhine Trilogy, Book 2

Heat Factor: Sexy

Character Chemistry: Excellent

Plot Development: Episodic

Overall: Solid B

This is a great book if you’re interested in a slice of life narrative about people of color in the American West. I will admit my ignorance here, and say that I never thought about the role African Americans played in settling western cities, though of course it would make sense that they were there. (See also: There were also non-European people in Europe!) I found it particularly fascinating parsing which components of life were segregated and which were not. Not segregated: parties, funerals, rodeos, and some shopping. Segregated: hotel visitors, restaurants, and the women’s suffrage movement.

This is also an excellent book if you want to spend some time with a compelling and competent couple as they genuinely enjoy getting to know each other. The moments where the characters were blocked from acting because of their race were startling – and a good reality check – because Portia and Kent were otherwise so supremely confident and on top of their shit. Though she doesn’t beat the reader over the head with it, Jenkins does make it clear that race has played a huge role in the development of the characters and the ways in which they interact with the world. To give a few minor examples: The hero is delayed in putting together an official posse, because the sheriff is unable to legally deputize someone who isn’t white. The heroine helps run an aid society for the uplift of other people of color.

Portia manages her aunt and uncle’s hotel (based on the Mountain View Hotel in Oracle, Arizona). She keeps the books, manages the staff and purchasing, and hopes to start her own business as an accountant. She has a slew of suitors, none of whom interest her, but also knows her way around a hammer. Kent is a cowboy, and therefore has a history of plenty of off-color adventures, as well as the chops to win a bull-riding contest. But he’s also sensitive, thoughtful, and knows how to make his own damn breakfast (and even does the dishes).

While Portia is initially resistant to Kent – her mother was a prostitute, so she has trust issues with men – he quickly wins her over with his obvious respect. And his kisses too, but Jenkins makes it very clear that he wins her not because of his hot body or sex know-how, but because he, unlike her other suitors, respects her mind.

But those kisses! When Portia protests that she’s not interested in men, her sister declares: “Just you wait until he pulls you into a corner and kisses you until your garters catch fire.” No clothing actually burns, but Kent’s kisses do it for Portia, and Jenkins describes them in the perfect amount of detail so that I knew exactly how hot they were.  

The problem with this book is that there isn’t really any tension. And I don’t just mean in terms of plot, which meanders here and there without a central defining conflict. (More on this below.) There also isn’t really any tension between Kent and Portia. It’s not just that it’s obvious to the reader that they will end up together – it’s a romance novel, after all! Rather, there isn’t much question within the bounds of the book that they will end up together. Portia puts up a token resistance at the beginning, because she doesn’t want to get married, but she doesn’t seem all that tied to the idea, and decides to marry Kent about halfway through. Even before succumbs to her fate as a married woman, the two are never at odds; after the engagement and the marriage, it’s a veritable love fest. Again, if you want to read about a couple growing together as a couple in love and harmony, this is an excellent read, but I’d like them to have to actually work on their relationship a little bit.

Regarding plot, basically the way the book works is that a problem is introduced, and then that problem is almost immediately solved. For example: at about the mid-point, the hotel hosts some guests. Two of these guests are an eligible young doctor and his mother, who both set about avidly courting Portia. The mother is presented as outspoken, and Portia initially likes her, but quickly decides that she’s rude instead. When the two don’t take Portia’s gentle no as an acceptable answer to the question of the doctor’s suit, she tells them about her inauspicious birth, and they leave in a huff. Now, this is a fine subplot, and the eligible young doctor is initially presented as an excellent young man. If it were drawn out, there could have been a real question for Portia about what kind of married life she wanted to have, in terms of where she lived, what kind of work she did, and the amount of stability she could expect. However, the doctor and his mother are introduced, shown to be annoying, and then dispatched in the course of about three chapters. There are several other subplots like this, which means that the main subplot, involving a fight over the ownership of a piece of land, disappears for chapters at a time, so it does not ever feel like a pressing concern, to either the characters or the reader.  

My recommendation: I think the good outweighs the bad. This book is worth reading, unless a lack of plot just makes you want to pull your hair out.  

Buy Now: Amazon

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