I’m often asked to name today’s top street lit authors. Look no further than Sister Souljah, Nisa Santiago, and Kiki Swinson, three writers who are surfing the wave of today’s urban fiction. Their intricate stories feature complex protagonists whose stone-cold faces belie the emotional tragedy they are enduring. Tough women, tough times, exciting reads.
Pick of the Month
Santiago, Nisa. Guard the Throne. Melodrama Pub. 2012. 274p ISBN 9781934157503. pap. $14.95. F
Citi Byrne, daughter of a Queens drug kingpin, is 16 and spoiled “like left out milk.” A princess with a pit bull attitude who began smoking at age 13 and started having sex when she turned 14, Citi finds her privileged adolescence shattered when she discovers her father’s bullet-ridden body. She sobs, “It’s my fault, Daddy.” Having inherited the sins of her father, Citi now has to guard his drug empire.
VERDICT My, my, this street lit novel flies! Readers’ fingers may tear pages as they rush to find what happens next in Santiago’s (Cartier Cartel) story of lies, manipulation, jealousy, and misguided revenge. Oh, and by the way, nobody can craft bloody torture and execution scenes like Santiago. With stunning violence and cold-hearted betrayal that brings to mind television’s Breaking Bad, this is a sure bet to be snapped up by savvy street lit readers. They already know Santiago is the truth.
Miss KP. Paparazzi. Life Changing Bks. 2012. 224p. ISBN 9781934230398. pap. $15. F
Beginning at age 14 when she was sexually abused by her foster father, Kennedi Kramer has had a rough life. The sassy 24-year-old street chick with a taste for shots of Cîroc and Patrón lands on her feet as main girl of manipulative drug lord Sharrod. Betrayal lands her in prison doing a two-year stint, but upon her release Kennedi hits the glamorous world of Los Angeles and hooks up with Malcolm, a married hip-hop mogul who can’t keep his pants zipped. Malcolm quickly launches her as a star of a reality show, and Kennedi plays up her sexy role on and off camera. But her past history is closing in fast with Sharrod thirsty for revenge and Kennedi’s own twin sister, Kasey, has some issues to settle. Action in the bedroom and jealousy leading to murder has this story moving at a rapid clip.
VERDICT The author’s tilt-a-whirl plot becomes confusing with lots of characters popping in unexpectedly, and a case of mistaken identity involving the twins may cause eye rolls. Yet, readers will like the street lit essentials in place here: betrayal, rough sex, strip clubs, and wild gunplay. Miss KP’s “Dirty Divorce” series was a hit, and this is a fine follow-up by the author.
Sister Souljah. A Deeper Love Inside: The Porsche Santiaga Story. Emily Bestler Bks: Atria. Jan. 2013. 422p. ISBN 9781439165317. $26.99. F
In this long-awaited companion to Sister Souljah’s groundbreaking The Coldest Winter Ever, narrator Porsche Santiago recalls her grim adolescence following the downfall of her drug king father, Ricky Santiaga. Unlike her older sister Winter, who flamboyantly played men to get ahead in the game, Porsche finds herself in juvy and joins a girl gang to establish a network that leads to a Shawshank Redemption-esque escape. On the outside, Porsche sets about reconnecting with her family but is emotionally shattered to discover that her mother (as fans of The Coldest Winter Ever will recall) has fallen under crack’s death grip. While this youngster has a knack for making money, she learns fixing her heart is “f*#king impossible.”
VERDICT Sister Souljah’s name is a sure bet and her legions of fans will not be disappointed in this hefty tale of Porsche’s path to self awareness. Although this is more a novel about relationships than hardened street lit, Sister Souljah writes with authority about a child finding peace. [Previewed in “African American Perspectives for Black History Month”, LJ 11/16/12.]
Slater, Thomas. Take One For the Team. Strebor: S. & S. 2012. 288p. ISBN 9781593094379. pap. $15; ebk. ISBN 9781451678079. F
Slater’s sequel to No More Time-Outs continues the trials and tribulations of Wisdom Jones in a high-stakes game of life or death. Here’s the set-up. Wisdom’s ailing mother needs a kidney donation to survive, but the only true match is whack job Highnoon who offers Wisdom a deal: A kidney for Wisdom’s life. In exchange, Wisdom wants a week to correct his family members’ nasty habit ranging from crack addiction to adultery. This Faustian pact with the devil sets a convoluted plot in motion. Along the way vicious beatings, kidnapping, and torture come into play. Riding with Wisdom is loyal sidekick Rico, a scene stealer.
VERDICT Slater’s plot has potential, but the amateurish writing dooms the drama, bogged down by over-the-top ghetto homilies: “I was happier than roaches at a bakery.” Readers may give it a try, but don’t be surprised if they give up after becoming totally confused.
Swinson, Kiki. Internationally Known. K.S. Pubs. 2012. 216p. ISBN 9780984529018. pap. $15. F
This sequel to New York’s Finest picks up with Naomi and Damian on the run from the Mexican cartel. Hiding out in Memphis, they learn that Reggie, Naomi’s brother, is being held hostage because Naomi ran a scam while moving high potency cocaine. Soon they head back to New York to join forces with Foxx, Naomi’s father, who’s seen it all in the drug wars. Alternating points of view between Naomi and Damian reveals their fears and stress about taking on the Mexican mob and coming up with the five million dollars million to free Reggie. So what’s the stress reliever? Hot sex! Naomi is thrilled to hear Damian say, “I’ll die before I let someone do something to you.” But one should never underestimate the power of a woman, especially when Naomi feels her family is threatened and becomes an enraged mama bear.
VERDICT When Foxx outlines his complicated plan, this novel adopts a spy movie procedural tone, like, say, Mission Impossible. Still, Naomi is a flawed but admirable heroine and her enemies need to look out when she dons ammo belts and becomes a walking arsenal. Swinson’s name will move this title with little effort.