LJ Best Books 2017

It's time again for LJ’s annual Top Ten Best Books of the year, selected by our editors, as well as Top Five lists for genre fiction, nonfiction, poetry and literature, graphic novels, and SELF-e titles.   SEE WHO MADE THE LIST

Saints and Sinners | African American Fiction (and More)

December’s selections are marked by religious themes of redemption and faith, yet these authors of inspirational fiction are clever enough to include alternate story lines of revenge, betrayal, and anger. The result: tales that could have been drawn from the Bible but offer a 21st-century slant.

When times get tough for Kimberla Lawson Roby’s protagonist in Best Friends Forever, she’s sure to trust in God, but it is her closest friend who shows true sacrifice. Roby’s novella is my pick of the month.

PICK OF THE MONTH

OrangeReviewStar Defending Your Castle | African American Fiction (And More!)Roby, Kimberla Lawson. Best Friends Forever. Grand Central. Jan. 2016. 178p.51cpGXUqRVL[3]
ISBN 9781455526086. $20; ebk. ISBN 9781455526093. F
In the same week Celine Richardson discovers a lump on her breast, husband Keith tells her he wants out of their marriage. She’s devastated to learn that the cancer is malignant and that she has to undergo radiation procedures, but she’s also unable to calm demanding ten-year-old daughter Kassie who wants her father back. Celine gives it all up to God ,believing that with His help she’ll deal with whatever is coming her way. Still she’s vexed by the idea that some men stupidly believe they can live perfect lives with “some godless whore.” Celine’s anchor is lifelong best friend Lauren who plays nurse and confidant. The loving care is welcome as Keith is all about his mistress and Kassie grows more belligerent.  By the way, Keith has my vote for most callous character. When he learns about Celine’s cancer, Keith tells her that he’s tired of her playing the victim. We hope this dude gets what’s coming to him. VERDICT This slim novella packs a punch as the burdens pile up on Celine’s shoulders. Roby (The Ultimate Betrayal; The Prodigal Son) provides a strong message about faith, trust, and friendship that will have her many fans cheering for two women who strengthen their bond while overcoming life’s challenges. [See Prepub Alert, 8/21/15]

81CQ7qBoNNL[1]Black, Daniel. Listen to the Lambs  St. Martin’s. Feb. 2016. 352p. ISBN 9781250078476. $26.99; ebk. ISBN 9781466890664. F
After losing his savings in an economic crash, Lazarus Love III quits believing in the American dream and abandons his upper-middle-class lifestyle.This means giving up his BMW and cable television every room, plus bailing out on his wife and two children. Lazarus is now homeless, taking up residence under a highway overpass near downtown Atlanta. But he is not alone. An assorted group of society’s discards is drawn to Lazarus and his simple lifestyle of sharing spiritual wealth. The small community is  hungry, but not desperate, until Lazarus is accused of murdering a wealthy woman in her home where he was hired to dig a flowerbed. Black (The Coming; Twelve Gates to the City) offers commentary on African American family values as Lazarus’s spiritual family plots ways to prove his innocence and bring their lost lamb home. But the deck is stacked against them, “A white woman dead, a black man, open-and-shut case.” VERDICT This message-driven novel emphasizes how the homeless, specifically African American homeless people, are shunned in the United States. A family member ponders, “Homeless didn’t mean non-American didn’t it?” Black writes at length of spiritual trust with not-so-subtle religious undertones, but when Lazarus’s trial begins, a series of implausible events occur. Still, readers of African American inspirational fiction will want this.

Day, Zuri. Packing Heat. Dafina: Kensington. (Blue-Collar Lover, Bk. 2). Mar. 2016. 358p. 51iAll1fTSL[1]ISBN 9781617734274. pap. $7.99; ebk. ISBN 9781617734281. F
Love finds a way even in Los Angeles’s Normandie post office where supervisor Doug Carter keeps work loose and easy. When new employee Jan Baker arrives, Doug knows she is the one for him, but Jan has other plans. Jan loves to sing and just knows her talent is good enough to land a spot on Nick Starr’s reality show, but each week she’s passed over for younger, untalented girls with man-made breasts. Doug has no choice but to keep showing Jan his caring and trustworthy personality. Eventually Jan sees Doug for his fine qualities but still can’t shake her dream of music stardom. What she doesn’t know is that in every workplace there are haters. Plus the Hollywood entertainment industry will spit out any unworthy candidate, giving Jan a doubly steep hill to climb. VERDICT This second installment (after Driving Heat) in Day’s “Blue-Collar Lover” series starts as a by-the-numbers romance in which a standoffish woman is blind to the great catch of a guy right in front of her. Yet there are some unpredictable surprises. When Doug and Jan surrender to their palpable lust, the bedroom turns into an erotic playground. Great escapism for African American romance fans.

419R4AIFL6L[1]Warren, Tiffany L. The Pastor’s Husband. Dafina: Kensington. Mar. 2016. 256p. ISBN 9781617732027. pap. $15; ebk. ISBN 9781617732034. F
Felicia Caldwell, unemployed and 30 pounds overweight, has hit rock bottom but stumbles upon hope when Dallas  preacher Nya Hampstead tells her she’ll be suddenly blessed. Sure enough, Felicia loses the extra weight and lands a job as a grant writer for the NBA Atlanta Crows. An office affair boils over when Lance Jarvis, a married NBA star, treats Felicia and her makeover curves to lavish Caribbean vacations. Meanwhile Nya’s preaching star skyrockets with her prophecies from God, but nobody realizes Nya lied about her message to Felicia  When Lance kicks Felicia to the curb, this dangerously unstable woman doesn’t blame herself but vows revenge on Nya! Still there’s more trouble in the megachurch as established ministers become jealous of Nya’s popularity and husband Greg questions her spiritual commitment. VERDICT In a fine blend of suspense and inspirational fiction, Warren (The Favorite Son; The Replacement Wife) spins an entertaining tale about folks misbehaving behind the pulpit in a modern African American church. Readers will enjoy the contrast between an unbalanced Felicia determined to destroy Nya’s fame and the emotional strain that preaching to thousands of adoring worshipers brings to Nya’s marriage.

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