A Chance at Love
Grade : C+

I’d heard positive things about this author, so when I received A Chance at Love to review, I was looking forward to reading it. Many aspects of the book impressed me, while others left me a little confused. There were several qualities here that I liked a lot, among them a very strong heroine. In fact, I think Loreli Winters may just be the feistiest heroine I’ve ever read, and I mean that in a good way. And as strong, intelligent heroes go, Jake Reed belongs right at the top.

Loreli Winters is a gambler – in more ways than one. Stunningly beautiful, Loreli is a “golden quadroon” (the daughter of a White Southern aristocrat and his Black wife), who has been on her own since her father’s murder when she was fourteen. Loreli is smart, honest, world-traveled, has dozens of admirers, is wealthy, and adventurous. She finds herself one day in the backwater town of Hanks, Kansas at the end of a wagon train trip delivering mail-order brides to the farmers of the area. Though nearly thirty-five, Loreli is not on the lookout for a husband herself, yet she instantly becomes the target of two adorable twin girls who are in need of a new mother.

Jake Reed is a hog farmer. He’s also the closest thing Hanks has to a vet, having studied medicine for a time years ago. As a Black Republican and a farmer’s union organizer, Jake already had his hands full, but when his sister died, Jake became both uncle and father to Beatrice and Deirdre, his twin 7 year-old nieces. In the year since his sister’s death, Jake has grown to love Bebe and Dede as his own and he wants more than anything to give them a new mother, but Hanks isn’t exactly overflowing with candidates. When the girls introduce him to Loreli, he is both drawn to her and repelled. She’s lovely, but she’s a gambler. She can’t cook, sew, clean house, or wash clothes (and doesn’t want to). Not exactly wife/mother material.

Through a series of situations where the girls make it plain they would be devastated without Loreli in their lives, Jake proposes a solution. He will marry Loreli and have her be the girls’ mama for one year, until he can find a “proper” replacement for her. While this sounds like a trite and over-used premise, this author has the two characters talk about it and work it out, and manages to make the situation believable. Both Jake and Loreli are intelligent and logical and are more concerned with the well-being and happiness of Bebe and Dede than they are with their own feelings. Also, while children in romances often bother me (especially those who contrive to get the hero and heroine together), I was impressed by the fact that these children are underplayed and highly sympathetic, even adorable. They are sincere and behave as children do, and I thought they were wonderful.

There are many secondary characters in the book, most of whom are original and not stereotypical at all (with a couple of exceptions). I liked the interplay between Jake and Loreli, and especially enjoyed the fact that she was far more experienced romantically than he. How she leads Jake into facing and releasing his preconceived notions about sex, and women, and pleasure, is refreshing, intriguing, and enjoyable. Jake is a quick study, too, and once he gets the hang of things (so to speak), he loses no time in making up for his initial less-than-fulfilling encounter with Loreli.

Some problems I had with the book involved this author’s writing style. Short, clipped sentences led into more complex words and descriptions and then back out again making reading a little jarring at times. There were some minor anachronisms, surprising since Jenkins is known to be such a thorough researcher, although so many historical romance authors today seem to use them. Timing was another problem I had. In 1884, I’m not sure an entire household of goods could be packed, loaded, and shipped and make the trip from Philadelphia to Kansas in under a week, and with nothing broken or lost (I’m not even sure Bekins could pull this feat off today). Loreli is very wealthy. She goes to the bank and asks for a huge sum of money to be transferred from Philadelphia to Hanks, Kansas. The next day, the money is available to her. I just don’t thinks things worked quite that fast in 1884 America.

As far as heroines go, Loreli is right up there. She doesn’t take any baloney from anybody. When she discovers a personal item of hers has been stolen, she goes after it. The thief says something like, “So, what are you going to do, shoot me?” Loreli pulls out a derringer and says, “Yes! Now give it back!” Jake and Loreli have a wonderful relationship and it’s easy to see why they would fall in love. I don’t think I’ve ever read a hero who is more willing to listen to the truth, and who makes judgments based on careful thought and logic. It is, however, this very honesty that causes one of my other problems with the book: when the chips are down, Jake doesn’t come through. When he should have believed in Loreli and supported her, he doesn’t. His reasons are well-stated, yet, in the end, he overlooks them anyway, so this device really didn’t work well for me.

The book goes along in a very nice manner and I was enjoying watching Jake and Loreli come to terms with their attraction, when, suddenly, a new character is introduced who throws the book off in a whole other direction. This was astonishing to me. Then, given that this character was fashioned in a benign, even amiable sort of way, when he does something terrible, it’s even more astonishing because it was so out of character with what we had seen of him. This situation dropped the book in my estimation from a solid B read down to a C+ because it causes the book to veer off into a different direction, and not for the better.

I would like to have seen more of Jake’s involvement with the Black Republicans. From a historical perspective, this book was informative and interesting to me. It touched on subjects with which I was unfamiliar and I appreciated that this author made this a “true” historical in that the setting is not simply a back-drop for the love story. Unlike so many historicals out there today, A Chance at Love uses history the way it should be used, to enhance and enrich, and to not simply serve as wallpaper.

I liked and admired Loreli, I loved Jake, and Bebe and Dede can come and stay at my house anytime; they are adorable. If only the book hadn’t taken a turn for the worse near the end, I’d have been able to recommend this book, albeit with some reservations. As it is, the thoroughly strong and independent heroine and wonderful and loving hero deserved a bit better than can be found in A Chance to Love.


Reviewed by Marianne Stillings

Grade: C+

Sensuality: Warm

Review Date : September 27, 2002

Publication Date: 2002

Recent Comments …

  1. Personal impression is subjective. What works for one person doesn’t always work for others, as we all know. However, when…

  2. I appreciate your comments, I find their tone completely in line with the tone of the review itself, not an…

Marianne Stillings

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