Overall Grade: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
If you read L.B. Dunbar’s book in the first SmartyPants Romance series, Love in Due Time, you were introduced to her hero and heroine for her second book, Love in Deed, through Naomi and Nathan’s story. Most notably is Beverly Townsen, Naomi’s sister. From the outside, Beverly is a bitter, older woman. Her life isn’t easy. The few times that Naomi encounters her in Love in Due Time, your heart hurts for Naomi as it’s clear that she wants a better relationship with her prickly sister; however, said sister makes this difficult. In that book, it’s hard to empathize with Beverly because it’s easy to judge her seemingly self-righteous, cantankerous characterization.
Dunbar’s brilliance shines brightest, however, in her articulation of Beverly’s journey in the second book of the SmartyPants Romance series, Love in Deed. It is here where you recognize the depth of hurt that resides in Beverly. That her hurts run so deep, they seem unfathomable. In this book, I found a bit of myself in Beverly, and Dunbar’s exceptional storytelling hit against the bruises of my soul to vocalize that pain for her readers. This isn’t a new experience for me, but Beverly’s story felt like my own. If only I had a Jedd to ride in and help me heal that pain…
Jedd Flemming has returned to Green Valley after an extended absence. He is back for two reasons: to find out where his brother Boone has gone and to get back a little of what he lost when he left Green Valley. In order to complete the second goal, he decides to converge on the Townsen homestead to negotiate using the land to raise horses. Once there, he finds himself drawn to Beverly. Something about her calls to him. After some negotiating with Beverly’s daughter, Hannah, Jedd moves into the barn and prepares to fix up the land, and Beverly and Jedd dance around their chemistry…until they don’t. When their pasts threaten to derail their future, Jedd and Beverly must find a way to create a new place for themselves.
At the beginning of this review, you must know that Dunbar holds a special place on my list of favorite authors. This woman crafts characters who feel grounded in reality. One of the ways she does this is imagining characters over the age of 40. This is obviously niche to the romance community, and I love that I can find my age group represented in the community through Dunbar’s storytelling. They struggle with my struggles, yet they always find their happy ending. In Love in Deed, Beverly aka Bee struggles to know herself. She’s lived for two decades waiting for her husband to return even though he devastated her life. As such, she’s a woman who has stagnated out of fear: to move on, to let go, to be more. Since Dunbar conceives characters like this, I will always read her stories because they act as a reflection of my own experiences. Dunbar finds this space in romance so that everyone finds representation. Ageism is an issue in our community, and Dunbar’s romances work to undo that issue.
What I loved most about Love in Deed is Bee’s empowerment. It would be simple for me to say that Jedd saves a “broken” Bee. He doesn’t. Instead, Jedd inspires Bee to embrace her truth and to face her fears. I think we often find romance where the hero or heroine “saves” the other. In this story, though, Bee saves herself by simply facing her fears. Jedd’s love for Bee offers her a safe harbor to dock when she feels fearful. This is the beauty of their relationship. That harbor is grounded in truth and commitment, two qualities lacking in her marriage. Even though Jedd almost ruins this, his actions save him.
If the first message of Love in Deed is find and accept your truth, the second message is words are slippery and can destroy. Instead, actions speak louder than those words when they hurt us. That truth spoke the deepest to me. Dunbar offers a beautiful message at the outset of this story about the power of words to build and destroy. There is so much truth in that reality and Bee’s life deliberately illustrates this. When her mind chants “left behind” over and over again, you feel the depth of her pain and rejection. When she begins to find her inner strength again, she chants “straight-ahead” and the promise of her happy ending is there because she’s choosing it for herself. Bee’s evolution and journey to finding her self again is the emotional power of Love in Deed.
Along with Jedd and Bee are additional messages about family. When Beverly’s sisters stand with her, she’s empowered. As she looks at her daughter’s life, she recognizes her negative impact on it and seeks to right that wrong. While Jedd is the impetus for Bee’s self-empowerment, she finds her strength in her family’s protection. It’s Dunbar’s gentle reminder that we don’t have to be alone to face our fears.
Lastly, as a writer, Dunbar articulates her messages brilliantly through a variety of ways in this story. The allusion to other literary stories, namely Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew, is profound. It grounds Love in Deed in the literary tradition. Additionally, the images of the barn and Bee’s land stand as metaphors for Bee’s past. Dunbar uses those images to underscore Bev’s complacency and need for change. Even Jedd’s horses become representations of Beverly’s persona. Just as he does for Beverly, Jedd sees the strengths of horses who have been turned aside for their foibles. Dunbar’s use of these literary techniques adds power to her story, illustrating her expertise in telling compelling stories.
I loved every moment of L.B. Dunbar’s Love in Deed. Had you told me how deeply I would care for Beverly before reading this book, I would have laughed at you. I unduly judged her in Naomi’s story because I didn’t understand her hurts. And I think that’s a lesson in itself. We all carry something with us, cracks and bruises from past hurts that inform the way we approach others. I guess Dunbar’s overall message is a need for us to avoid judging others before we understand their truth. Love in Deed is another important book for the SmartyPants Romance world.
In love and romance