Brenda Jackson: Three Novels

Warning: This is not a traditional review and so contains some very general spoilers as I look at Brenda Jackson’s writing technique across three novels.

I’ve been part of the Tell Harlequin panel since before it went by that name. They send me books, and I give them opinions in return. Well, this time they sent me three rather than the normal two, and I was swamped with other reading projects, so for the first time possibly ever, I failed to finish all three books before the survey closed. This is doubly sad because of what they might assume from this failure (though I did manage to do a partial survey before it closed on the first of the three).

Why are these three books by Brenda Jackson special? Well, they have African American characters.

The first, Inseparable, is part of an African American line, so the characters are not surprising, though in all the years I’ve done Tell Harlequin, this is the first time non-white characters have not been exotic, and the first time they’ve been African American. I have read a few on my own in the past, but only when I stepped outside of the lines I traditionally picked up. The Arabesque title showed some interesting differences in the story telling as compared to most romances I read.

The omnibus, however, is part of the Harlequin Desire line, one of their mainstream lines that I have been reading on and off for more years than I want to count. It contains two of Brenda Jackson’s novels, The Proposal and Solid Soul. Some of the differences in story telling I noticed with Inseparable are maintained, while others, whether because of different standards or just different editors, are not.

My friend Monica Jackson, who we recently lost, wanted nothing more than for African American romance authors to no longer be ghettoized. For all readers to happily enjoy romance across color lines.

It seems, a little too late for her own career, that this is finally happening at least in the instance of Brenda Jackson. I hope it’s a sign for the future.

The books themselves show how a writer can have a favorite story path, and yet how that path is followed is different for all of them. Based on this sampling, Brenda Jackson likes writing miscommunication novels where both characters get a point of view (POV) and both come to recognize that they love the other character and yet believe with supreme confidence that the other character does not return those feelings. This is both one of my favorite trends, and one of the most difficult to pull off.

Inseparable, in my opinion, drags the miscommunication out too long, especially since everyone in his family knows what’s going on and tells the characters, while their own reactions prove their feelings even as Reese and Kenna continue to deny the possibility. In talking with my sister, the African American novel she received (also from Tell Harlequin) had the same issue, something that was strong enough to keep her from reading the two others. This makes me wonder about different editors or differ expectations.

I will say that I enjoyed the active involvement of extended family, often missing in romance. These characters were not isolated, though Kenna had been largely adopted by Reese’s family since her own had passed on. Reese’s family gathered for Sunday dinner once a week, they dropped by to see each other, and even worked together. This did not stop any of his family from being successful business people, offering a string of handsome, well-off, eligible bachelors for an epic romance series. Contrast that to the typical romance where uber successful man or woman has little time for anyone but is forced to take notice of his/her romantic counterpart because of circumstance. They might have a best friend, or maybe a sibling just out of the picture, but huge family gatherings are more likely to be awkward than welcome.

In Brenda Jackson’s mainstream romance titles, the two Desire novels: The Proposal and Solid Soul, she brings over her love of miscommunication and the focus on family, though not always in the same way.

The Proposal‘s miscommunication worked better for me simply because there was a logical reason why Bella would doubt Jason’s intentions. From the start, he approaches her with a business proposition she refuses, but their instant lust means there’s more to the situation than just business. However, her background is very different from the Westmoreland clan that is actively involved in all members’ lives, and she distrusts his willingness to help her even after she refuses his request to buy her grandfather’s farm and prized horse. The novel takes us through Bella’s acceptance by, and acceptance of, the Westmorelands, and her discovery that lust is the precursor to love as well as that disagreements don’t mean doors slammed shut on that part of life. Unlike Inseparable, the doubts Bella has, and the decisions she makes, make sense based on her upbringing, while her circumstances encourage caution even as they push her to accept a compromise when she wouldn’t believe in Jason’s emotional attachments. This is a wonderful example of a miscommunication romance because it makes the miscommunication viable. Even when the characters talk things out, the layers of ulterior motives in play make their words not as trustworthy as they might seem.

Solid Soul is a completely different take on the miscommunication theme. Rather than the main characters, Chance and Kylie, muddling the facts, their children are deliberately setting them up (a fact revealed in the prologue) in the hopes that their single parents will have something more than the two of them to focus on. This backfires because Kylie has a hard time giving up her single focus, especially because she was right around the same age as her daughter when she let a boy convince her to have sex and ended up pregnant. Though she cannot regret her daughter, her life plans were destroyed, her connection to her parents battered, and the boy turned out to be a cad rather than the love of her life. When her academically focused daughter starts getting serious about a boy, and planning to ditch school (an act the kids know will set their parents off), Kylie is all the more determined not to get distracted by Chance, the first man to awaken feelings she’d blocked off after her teenage love proved unworthy of her.

This story line is a grand one, with them fighting and failing to fight their attraction but Kylie holding strong on the need to concentrate on the kids until they are forced into drastic measures. Sadly, in my opinion, another storylines was woven into the novel, one of suspense and a murderer, that didn’t fit well and never fully came into its own. The author notes speak to Solid Soul as Brenda Jackson’s take on The Parent Trap, a favorite movie of mine. Had it stayed focused on that part of the story, it would have been a stronger book. On the other hand, looking back, it’s the love story–both parent and child, and man and woman love–that stuck in my mind while the other, weaker, storyline just faded away.

So, there you go. Three books by the same author, all of which are founded on the principle of miscommunication. Me, I think the two Desire novels worked better, simply because there was more reason for the characters’ miscommunications than just “oh no, he couldn’t be in love with me,” which is hard to maintain. However, despite the same principle, each of the novels is separate and distinct in story, enough so that reading three in rapid succession didn’t bother me at all. Her other underlying aspects of exploring family dynamics from the involved to the distant extended families also strengthened the books for me. Life is never simple, and the only person who is truly isolated without a story in that as well is an orphan, and even then, close ties form because at the root, we are social beings.

Have you read any of these novels? If so, what did you think? And if you’ve read others, do the patterns I saw in these hold true?

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