For Keeps

Love Letters

Out of the Blue

A Bittersweet Love by Janice Sims
(Arabesque/BET, $5.99, PG-13) ISBN 1-58314-084-0
Teddy Riley is a freelance photojournalist who has been assigned to do a profile on award-winning novelist Joachim West. This is a make-or-break assignment for her that could lead to a permanent staff position with a national magazine. Teddy, who is anticipating a bitter fight with her ex-husband for custody of their son Alex, wants to prove that she can provide both physical and fiscal security.

Her search for the reclusive Joachim West takes her to a small town in Northern Ireland. West is there for the wedding of his best friend and to jumpstart his stalled progress on his next book. A fortuitous misfortune places her in his midst. Teddy is injured by a mugger and has lost her camera, money and passport. Villagers mistakenly assume that the only two African-Americans around and, coincidentally both from San Francisco, are married. Neither Teddy nor Joachim corrects the misunderstanding.

As Teddy is recuperating at the home where he is staying, she and Joachim learn they have a lot in common. They have strong southern roots -- hers in Mississippi; his in Alabama. They both know the pain of losing a love they had thought would be forever. Joachim is a widower whose wife died after a lengthy bout with cancer. Although it has been several years, he still wears his wedding band. Teddy’s love died in another way. Her marriage ended when she became pregnant three years before the novel begins. Her ambitious television anchorman husband decided that a child would not fit into his ten-year plan for their lives. When she refused to have an abortion, he promptly divorced her.

Teddy’s feisty and funny persona quickly wins over the reserved and mercurial Joachim. And once Joachim recognizes his love for Teddy he unabashedly compares his commitment to the little pink Energizer Bunny that “keeps going and going.” I am purposely stingy with more plot details because A Bittersweet Love should be experienced first-hand without spoilers from a very enthusiastic reviewer.

In A Bittersweet Love, author Janice Sims has created a wonderfully mature romance with fully defined main characters. Their relationship evolves honestly, realistically. We know exactly who Teddy and Joachim are, not only through their scenes together, but through their actions and through their interaction with a great supporting cast of characters. The author has populated this novel with a number of independent women who could easily carry their own stories. (There is even a cameo appearance by Alana and Nico Setera from Sims’ novella, “To Love Again.”) However, the presence of these strong personalities enhances the novel and in no way overpowers Teddy’s story.

Janice Sims’ book expands the look and feel of the African-American romance novel and makes it truly more multicultural -- from the cover to the picturesque glimpses of the Irish countryside and history. Sims deftly builds on the legacy begun by Elsie Washington in Entwined Destinies, believed to be the first romance written by an African-American author. Like Gwynne Forster, and only a handful of others, Sims momentarily reaches beyond the nation’s cities and suburbs to show African Americans in international settings who are able to function as experienced world citizens.

“The mark of a good writer,” says Teddy of Joachim’s work, “is that his characters leave a lasting impression on the reader. We think of them as real people and wonder what’s going on in their lives long after the book’s finished.”

The same can be said of Janice Sims. I wonder what Teddy and Joachim West are doing. I wonder if they made it back to Ballycastle. And I wonder if Teddy ever fried hoecakes for Joachim.

--Gwendolyn Osborne

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