The rather implausible premise of Jewel is mitigated somewhat by the chemistry between the main characters, and the level of detailed historical information on the black press in America. The Marriage of Convenience is my favorite plotline; I have seen many variations on the theme, but even for all that, this one is highly unlikely.
Jewel Crowley has been caring for her father and five brothers for most of her 24 years in her hometown of Grayson Grove, Michigan. She is reasonably certain that she will forever be a spinster because her overprotective brothers have chased off any potential suitors, and she is mostly resigned to her future. She’s well-liked in the community and is held in high regard, especially for her work ethic and faultless reputation. She is also locally famous for the roses she grows. Jewel is taken by surprise when a longtime family friend, Eli Grayson, shows up on washday with an unusual request.
Eli has has become a pillar of the community after a troubled youth filled with indiscretions and bad decisions. At one time he edited the now-defunct Grayson Grove newspaper, and currently serves as acting mayor in his cousin’s absence. He has received word that a potential investor from back east has interest in starting the paper back up, but when the man arrives and announces that he only works with married men, Eli panics and claims to have a wife whom he agrees to bring to dinner that evening. Rather than correct his error, Eli decides to convince his friend Jewel to play the part, just for the evening.
As we readers know from this type of story, the ensuing complications ensure that Jewel and Eli end up actually married and must then decide what to do about their situation. As Grayson Grove is a progressive town in many ways, Jewel figures she’ll be able to divorce Eli eventually without too much scandal, but her lifelong crush on him tempts her to try to make it work in spite of his womanizing reputation. For Eli’s part, an attraction he had never before realized grows stronger the more time he spends with his new wife. In addition to learning to accept their new feelings for each other and adjusting their lifestyles to fit this new development, Jewel and Eli are faced with the return of one of Eli’s past loves. Although Eli no longer cares for the woman, she stirs up old emotions along with and anger among the locals.
Although this book was interesting enough, I didn’t find it especially compelling. Every time I put it down, I had to remind myself to pick it back up. The love scenes were well written, if a bit exaggerated, but there were many references to absent characters and previous romances that apparently take place in related books. It’s not necessary to know the whole back story, but there are enough references to make the first time reader feel left out. Also, the only serious conflict has to do with Eli’s old flame returning and, while she is surrounded by drama, it only indirectly affects Jewel and Eli’s relationship, and is therefore not really strong enough to carry the book.
What I found most difficult to believe was the inanity behind the reason for their marriage. Of course, some employers at the time would have preferred married men for their supposed stability, but the fact that Eli never comes out with the truth only emphasizes his unreliability. And with all the time the investor spends in Grayson Grove – he even moves there – I feel certain that the truth behind the hasty marriage would have surfaced at some point.
On the other hand, the main and secondary characters are well described. They all have strong personalities, and while I found some to be anachronistic, on the whole they were entertaining.
I would really only recommend Jewel to those who have already read and enjoyed Jenkins’s work and want more of her, or to those especially interested in the location or point in history. Otherwise, I didn’t find it to be especially compelling.