Sure, dreams can come true, but chasing them can be obsessive. In this month’s selections, characters are hell-bent on gaining revenge, marriage, wealth, love, and lust by any means necessary. You know the old saying. Be careful for what you wish for, it may come true.
The wild streets of Newark, NJ, are the backdrop for Meesha Mink’s urban tale that quivers with the tension of a hard-boiled mystery. It’s my pick of the month.
PICK OF THE MONTH
Mink, Meesha. Kiss the Ring: An Urban Tale. Touchstone. Aug. 2014. 271p. ISBN 9781476755304. pap. $14.99; ebk. ISBN 9781476755342. F
Naeema Cole knows her way around Newark’s rough streets but is vexed about who brutally executed her son Brandon. Naeema was 16 and unable to face motherhood when Brandon was born, so she gave him up for adoption 14 years ago. She now realizes one of the fellas in the Make Money Crew murdered her son, and this street chick is all about an eye for an eye. She hooks up with the crew, earning their trust by carrying a gun in a bank heist, but she ultimately wants inside info on who ordered her son’s hit. The one good thing in her life is estranged husband Tank always has her back. What Naeema doesn’t count on is falling for sexy Bas, the leader of Make Money Crew. Careful girl, don’t let those lust blinders keep you from seeing the truth! VERDICT Mink (Real Wifeys: On the Grind; Shameless Hoodwives) writes with street flair while sliding in a few erotic sex scenes, yet her tale is one of hard-boiled noir. Naeema plays the noble soul seeking the truth, determined to right all wrongs, and she’s willing to off anyone who blocks her path. Sex, bloody violence, betrayal, and a crackling mystery come together in a resounding crescendo of a finish.Take a bow, Meesha Mink, this one’s a winner.
Grice, Karyn. Unfaithful. Karen Hunter: Gallery. Sept. 2014. 320p. ebk. ISBN 9781451698350. $1.99. F
Melanie Sparks hooks up with lots of Chicago men in Grice’s (No Strings Attached; What Happens in Vegas, Stays in Vegas) girl-meets-way-too-many-guys tale that falls somewhere between urban fiction and romance but not quite erotica. Melanie’s boyfriend, Cecil, slaps her for refusing to strip at his Chicago gentlemen’s club, forcing her to kick him to the curb. While filling out the police report, top cop—and former lover—Myles Cochran takes charge, insisting that Melanie stay at his house to avoid Cecil. Myles has a cavalier attitude about his serious relationship with Sara, declaring he’s not ready to settle down with just one woman. Soon enough Myles and Melanie sleep together. Ah, but Melanie is totally fickle and bumps into Michael, another former lover. Could he be the one? Nah, he’s seeing Elaine, and Melanie backs off. All of sudden Brian Tripp, all broad shoulders with a cute dimple in his cheek, sweeps Melanie off her feet. and they rush to get married. Melanie must be hot because she’s juggling more men than Cleopatra. VERDICT Despite the great title choice, wooden dialog and implausible relationships doom this novel’s credibility. Grice has created some despicable characters but pulls back from full erotica while also avoiding a happy-ending romance.
Octavia, Grace. His Last Wife. Dafina: Kensington. (Southern Scandal, Bk. 3) Nov. 2014. 288p. ISBN 9780758288844. pap. $15; ebk. ISBN 9780758288868. F
Octavia’s latest installment of her Southern Scandal series (His First Wife; His Third Wife) picks up after the death of Atlanta’s mayor, Jamison Taylor. Kerry, Jamison’s first wife and now a widow, finds herself in prison, charged with shoving Jamison off the roof of Atlanta’s downtown Westin hotel. What starts off as a riff on television’s Orange Is the New Black with Kerry facing down a jailhouse bully turns into a murky mystery. More than a few folks would like to know who wanted Jamison dead and who tossed him off the hotel roof. To uncover the truth Kerry joins forces with Val, another of Jamison’s ex-wives and a former stripper who looks “like the kind of woman a man would brag about sleeping with.” Appearances by a voodoo shaman, a hit man, the police, the CIA, and one of Jamison’s mistresses, plus a questionable antigovernment organization, cause even more sag to Octavia’s overweight storyline.VERDICT There is some potential here with some great jail scenes along with intriguing secondary characters, but an overcomplicated plot leaves many threads dangling. Perhaps a fourth volume will clear things up. Purchase only where there was interest in earlier series titles.
Swinson, Kiki & De’nesha Diamond. Fistful of Benjamins. Dafina: Kensington. Sept. 2014. 235p. ISBN 9780758280282. pap. $15; ebk. ISBN 9780758280305. F
Two top names in urban fiction collaborate with two hard-hitting novellas in one volume. In Swinson’s “Special Delivery,“ Gabriella Vazquez risks her decent postal carrier job to deliver drugs for sexy boyfriend Eduardo Santos. The Virginia Beach girl hates being blackmailed to sex up Carlos, her obese and smelly coworker who threatens to turn her in to the feds. Finally her disgust forces Gabby to spill the truth to Eduardo, which means extra-bad news for Carlos.The brutal payback is nothing compared to what Eduardo’s bosses will do if something goes wrong with the deliveries, a real possibility when Gabby wants out of the game. Diamond mirrors Swinson’s use of Latino characters in “Gun Play” as Cataleyna Rosales celebrates her 21st birthday by trying to run off to the Caribbean with her lover Julian Arias. Not so fast. A rival cartel family, the Vazquez clan, storms the party, killing dozens of Rosales men. Cataleyna is held prisoner as Julian tries to save her only to be left for dead after a gun battle. VERDICT Swinson (Wifey’s Next Deadly Hustle; Cheaper To Keep Her) produces the more tightly written story with a definite street vibe. Diamond’s (Street Divas; Hustlin’ Divas) tale has moments that strain credibility, but she offers up a fine twist in her story. Both novellas check in at less than 120 pages, providing satisfaction without an extended time commitment. Kudos to both authors for breaking away from African American characters dominating street lit by creating authentic Latino heroes and villains.
Tucker, Pat. The Cocktail Club. Strebor: Atria. Aug. 2014. 316p. ISBN 9781593094812. pap. $15; ebk. ISBN 9781451698480. F
Three close girlfriends blow off stress from their work and personal lives with shots of Patrón tequila at rousing happy hours at Eddie V’s bar in Houston. Peta Nixon is a single mom still trying to balance sexual romps with her ex-husband Kyle and also her current boyfriend Gordon. Darby Jaxon escapes her tightwad husband by having an affair with Chandler, the guy who killed her twin sister in a drunk-driving accident. Finally, Ivee Henderson’s work on a company’s publicity campaign falls apart when the client blames her for slow revenue.The trio’s love affair with alcohol shifts from an opportunity to dish dirt and gossip to a dependence enabling them to ignore messes at home and at work. Soon they’re in serious situations that slugging booze will only accelerate and not solve. VERDICT Tucker (Football Widows; Daddy’s Maybe) knows how to tug on female readers’ emotions by developing women characters desperate to free themselves from frustrating situations in work and love.Yet the constantly alternating narrative voices can make it difficult to keep track of the different dramas. But like all soap operas, these women make enough shady decisions to keep audiences engaged.