From its initial installment in February 2008, this column has reviewed urban fiction, but beginning this month the scope will expand to cover a range of books representing reading interests of many African American readers. Subgenres such as urban Christian stories, steamy romance tales featuring African American characters, or contemporary novels far removed from the violence and raw sexuality of street lit will be included.
What better way to launch a rebooted column than with Carl Weber’s latest novel? His intriguing The Man in 3B is set in the ‘hood and contains elements of a traditional procedural mystery but is spiced with urban flair. Rest assured, though, this column will still be the review home of selected street lit novels such as Tasha Macklin’s Baller Dreams.
PICK OF THE MONTH
Weber, Carl. The Man in 3B. Grand Central. Feb. 2013. 304p. ISBN 9781455505265 $24.99; ebk. ISBN 9781455505234. F
Weber (The Choir Director; Big Girls Do Cry) opens his latest novel with police investigating a body burned beyond recognition that’s found in apartment 3B. Could it be sexy Daryl Graham, who female neighbors tag as a cross between Tyrese, Teddy Pendergrass, and Michael Jordan? In a flashback we find that each member of the tight “family”of the building’s residents has a controversial past and at least two of the women have a sexual connection with Daryl. The main players in this story of alternating narrators are overweight Connie, who is being divorced by her man, and her nasty, sexually wild stepdaughter, Krystal. Then there is 21-year-old Benny , who is intrigued about Daryl’s collection of books about living a down-low lifestyle. Skullduggery builds to the point at which any one of these folks has a reason to see Daryl dead. It gets even more complicated because this awesome dude who women want and men admire couldn’t leave 3B due to house arrest and an ankle bracelet. Was a murderer invited into 3B? VERDICT Weber’s closed-room mystery asks age-old question of whodunit, but adds an inner city vibe. His ear for street dialog hits the mark, and he balances street scenes, sex, and male/female romantic relationships with a skilled hand. The author’s instantly recognized name makes purchasing this title an easy-peasy decision. Buy multiple copies. [See Prepub Alert, 8/16/12.]
Griggs, Vanessa Davis. The Other Side of Dare. Dafina: Kensington. (Blessed Trinity). 2013. 320p. ISBN 9780758273598 pap. $15; ebk. ISBN 9780758286192. CF
Grigg’s opening sentence instantly sets this novel’s tone: “The devil sure is busy.” Darius Connors, or Dare as his lady friends call him, is a playah in his Alabama community. He flaunts his indiscretions while his wife Tiffany is dedicated to their megachurch, Followers of Jesus Faith Worship Center. Anyone with an ounce of Spidey sense can tell Darius is a sham. He’s been out of work for nine months and actually justifies hitting a strip club with the fellas as a networking opportunity. But Griggs’s epic tale is not all about Darius. An unnamed person is blocking Gabrielle Mercedes, a stripper who gave her life to Christ, from gaining custody of nine-year-old Jasmine, whose mother died of cancer. The identity of Jasmine’s father is a complex issue slowly revealed in this lengthy tale. Religious quotes abound with the recurring theme of, “what we do in the dark will come to light.” The devil is never far away from these folks’ shenanigans. VERDICT In her latest series entry (after The Other Side of Goodness), Griggs piles on many distracting subplots to her winding tale of folks creeping under cover of the church. Readers should be aware they’ll have to hunker down and spend some time with this lengthy book, but through all the drama, a message of faith and belief in God carries the day.
Macklin, Tasha. Baller Dreams. Wahida Clark Presents. 2012. 304p. ISBN 9781936649327. pap. $15. F
John “Dre” Dodson graduates from his Detroit high school with a goal to become a major force in the city’s drug game. He soon meets Destiny, an older woman who knew Dre’s now-imprisoned father. Dre should be wary of a big butt and a smile, and we find out Destiny has bided her time plotting revenge on John, Sr. The wealthy woman fronts Dre with nine ounces of cocaine and his business takes off, but his relationship with Destiny is shaky with a question of who’s in control. With time Dre’s crew is pushing millions of dollars of product. Of course there’s danger leading to death, and Dre’s right-hand-man states, “We’re playin’ a dirty game, cuz.” Early in Dre’s life a teacher warned him that the streets will put him in a cell or a casket. That’s an obvious bit of foreshadowing. VERDICT Macklin’s name doesn’t have instant recognition, but keep this writer on your radar. Her fast-moving novel has all the key street-lit elements that entice readers. Macklin’s not afraid to kill off key players and she certainly knows street slang and details of the drug business. At times her writing is unpolished, but her story rarely loses its raw power. A definite yes.
Rowell, Victoria. The Young and the Ruthless: Back in the Bubbles. Atria: S. & S. Mar. 2013. 285p. ISBN 9781451643831. pap. $15; ebk. ISBN 9781451643848. F
In former-soap-opera-star Rowell’s sequel to Secrets of a Soap Opera Diva, actress Calysta Jeffries is reprising her role as Ruby Stargazer on the sudsy The Rich and the Ruthless. The troupe finds itself thrust into a reality show promotion at a circus and a reporter asks Calysta, “How’s it feel to be part of the circus?” Her tart reply cuts deep: “Just swappin’ one set of clowns for another.” The catty cast is paranoid about being written out of the script while thriving on stabbing each other in the back. Calysta’s problems are compounded when her 18-year-old daughter Ivy, who believes she’s grown and all that, joins the show as a camera-ready star. Um, Calysta, your jealousy is showing. Better cover it up. VERDICT This chatty romp mixes comedy and juicy sex while a truly dysfunctional cast tries its best to carry on despite slumping ratings. It’s a perfect sidetrack for folks addicted to their television stories and who want a behind-the-scenes peek at actors’ lives.
Yoshe. Mad ‘Cause She Ain’t You. Urban Bks. 2012. 284p. ISBN 9781601625328. $14.94; ebk. ISBN 9781622860685. F
Three women cruise between Brooklyn and Queens on their quest for a man with cars, money, and a career. Each desperately wanting to be a real girlfriend and not just a side piece, Ebony, Phoenix, and Joi are looking to become wifeys by any means necessary. That is, if the men pass muster. But first they have to put up with drama swirling around DNA tests, control-freak guys, cat fights, and rival baby mamas. Ebony likes her sex but finds herself in bed with a variety of losers and ponders, “Why do her boyfriends keep cheating on her?” Message to Ebony? Here’s a clue: It might be that you dress for a party sans panties and wear a micro-mini and five-inch heels. Phoenix and Joi are more conservative in their hunt, but each of these materialistic girls has lots to learn. Without giving too much away, this romance novel with a hard edge finds three happy endings, but only two ladies find a man.
VERDICT Balanced between hard-core street lit and a romance novel, this story has a strong premise, but a common drawback of inexperienced authors—excessive detail—slows pacing to a crawl. At one point three pages are devoted to describing preparations for a night out, and include excessive brand-name dropping. Yoshe’s (The Killer Poet) characters have annoying flaws, but readers will warm to them anyway and fall in step with their problems with sheisty men.