Protecting the King | African American Fiction (And More!)

In chess the queen protects the king, and so goes the women of urban fiction who have their men’s backs regardless of how they’re mistreated. That loyalty is tested in this month’s selections as guys cheat with “around the way” chicks while their women ponder their future. Yet in Eric Jerome Dickey’s new novel, both the man and the woman enter a relationship by making sexual moves as complicated as a game of chess.

December means Best Books announcements. Check out my top five African American pop fiction titles for 2014. Titles run the gamut from Angela Benson’s satisfying tale of gospel singing and faith to K’wan’s gritty police procedural.

Pick of the Month

OrangeReviewStar Defending Your Castle | African American Fiction (And More!)Dickey, Eric Jerome. One Night. Dutton. Apr. 2015. 368p. ISBN 9780525954859. $26.95; ebk. ISBN 9780698186248. F onenight
Dickey (Sleeping with Strangers; An Accidental Affair) again turns his literary talents to a sexual tryst between strangers. It’s the holiday season in Los Angeles, and grifter Jackie Frecesca Summers is looking for quick cash by unloading a fake MacBook Pro to a stranger she targets at a gas station. The unnamed man from Orange County (wearing a gray suit!) counters with a $200 in exchange for oral sex, but Jackie’s two months behind on rent and needs more than that. A lot can happen in one night, and from this chance meeting the brown girl with dreads and the married rich man begin a relationship over coffee at Denny’s where they talk about first love and how difficult it is to remain monogamous. Of course they soon end up in bed and Jackie is complimented on the talented use of her pierced tongue. As flirty as it begins, the sex is somewhat cathartic for both, but readers should be aware of a nifty twist in the tale. There’s much more going on than a casual hook-up, and it’s clear that every action has a reaction. VERDICT Instant author recognition will automatically move this title that gives a sly wink to Fifty Shades of Grey. Dickey builds tension as we’re not really sure of each character’s motives. Sexual scenes are frisky rather than kinky, and for this reader the pages moved faster in the second half of the book when Mr. Gray Suit’s background is revealed. Buy lots of copies. Demand will soar.

thickerwaterAllen, Takerra. Thicker Than Water. Dafina: Kensington. Feb. 2015. 368p. ISBN 9781617736209. pap. $7.99; ebk. ISBN 9781617736216. F
Four women are loyal to the men they love even though the fellas are ruthless players in the Newark, NJ, drug game. Sasha, Tatum, and Kim are born and bred in Newark, but newcomer Neli is a transplant from California. Sasha struggles to maintain a relationship with her man Chauncey, who has a roving eye but swears he loves Sasha. Kim works the pole in a strip club and likes fast men and fast money. Tatum finds herself hooking up with ultra-sexy and all-powerful Respect, the city’s main drug player. The odd girl out without a man of her own is Neli who comes off having a heart of gold but eyes as sneaky as a cat’s. Trying to corral straying men is hard enough; however, Tatum’s brother, Chris, wants to be an up-and-comer in Respect’s drug empire. What Chris doesn’t know is that loyalty is number one, and he makes a major mistake that will harm all these interconnected relationships. VERDICT Allen (The Lonely Pole; There’s Power in the V) has written a fairly solid story that alternates between romance and crime fiction; unfortunately, the author slows down her pace by dumping in too much detail about her characters’ every thought and deed. Yet at times there are flashes of authentic street slang and hot bedroom romps. The next installment, Still Thicker Than Water, is due out in June 2015. Allen is the late rapper Tupac Shakur’s half sister.

Mink, Meesha. All Hail the Queen: An Urban Tale. Touchstone. Feb. 2015. 288p. ISBN 9781476755359. pap. $14.99; ebk. ISBN 9781476755380.
Mink fans will recall Naeema’s violent act of revenge for allhailqueenher son’s murder in Kiss the Ring and will welcome back this tougher-than-nails woman who again must figure out who’s responsible for a shooting. Putting aside her powerful drive to set matters straight, Naeema feels she’s grieved enough and focuses on building up her rocky relationship with her estranged husband, Tank. That reconciliation doesn’t last long when Tank is shot four times while working security for female rapper Fevah. There are no snitches in the ‘hood and no one knows who pulled the trigger. Unconvinced that the target was Fevah, Naeema suspects that somebody wants her man dead. Turns out lots of people have intent, but again nobody’s talking. Naeema has two goals: pinpoint the culprit and exact revenge. No police intervention is necessary. VERDICT As always, Mink (Shameless Hoodwives) is on top of her game creating great side characters and a flawed protagonist who tries to do the right thing. How can you not like a woman who dons a pink helmet and roars through Newark streets astride her motorcycle while mentally connecting the dots of the crime? We can only hope the open-ended last page promises more of tales of Naeema.

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