Pushing Genre Boundaries | African American Fiction (and More)

A historical mystery set against the backdrop of the Harlem Renaissance, an inspirational novel about a very human man of God and his family, a soft cozy, an urban tale starring a Latina thief, and a rough-and-tumble street lit title populate this month’s selections, proving that popular African American fiction is expanding into diverse genres as its readers’ preferences broaden beyond traditional urban fiction tropes.

But who could resist one more visit to the out-of-control family of Rev. Curtis Black? Kimberla Lawson Roby’s behind-the-scenes drama of an African American megachurch continues to impress. Her Christian novel, A Sinful Calling, is my pick of the month.

PICK OF THE MONTH

OrangeReviewStar Defending Your Castle | African American Fiction (And More!)Roby, Kimberla Lawson. A Sinful Calling: A Reverend Curtis Black Novel. Grand Central. Jun. 2016. 336p. ISBN 9781455559596. $26; ebk. ISBN 9781455559589. F
In Roby’s latest series installment (after The Ultimate 51KosJ79KbL[1]Betrayal; The Prodigal Son), the spotlight focuses on Dillon, Rev. Curtis Black’s secret son; he, too, becomes a minister and preaches to a megacongregation of 1,000 worshipers. Some might call Dillon a fake man of God as he has no issues sleeping around with numerous women while battling his alcohol addiction. Half sister Alicia, suffering guilt over the death of her first husband, now hears voices in her head telling her to do crazy things. Throw in Dillon’s wife, Raven, who wants 51 percent of Dillion’s church, and there’s no trust among thieves, um, I mean minsters. Curtis Black takes a back seat to his offspring in this outing, but don’t forget that the good reverend is pulling the strings like a godfather who sees all. Roby seems to know all about the behind-the-scenes drama that comes with a megachurch, but she stays true to her Christian theme of forgiveness and trusting in God. That’s tough going when revenge is on everyone’s mind. VERDICT Fans of the Black family’s ongoing saga will not be disappointed. [See Prepub Alert, 12/7/15.]

Ashley & JaQuavis. The Cartel 6: The Demise. Griffin: St. Martin’s. Jul. 2016. 320p. ISBN 9781250066992. pap. $15.99; ebk. ISBN 9781466874909. F
81blH4VUxpL[1]The prolific authors (Ashley Antoinette and JaQuavis Coleman) of Dirty Money and Kiss, Kiss, Bang, Bang, among other works, bring their trademark pop-up violence to the sixth outing of their gritty street lit series. It opens in the aftermath of the murder of gangster Baraka’s daughter by Miramor, the wife of cartel king Carter Jones. Baraka vows revenge, and bodies start dropping. Soon the once powerful cartel is in shambles, but loyal thug Monroe remains steadfast to a code of “even in the face of the devil, gangsters don’t fold.” Waiting to swoop in and pile more despair on the crew during this war of attrition are the Feds who need just one inside snitch. The irony is Carter and Monroe have thought about getting out of the game and settling down. Ashley and JaQuavis enjoy instant name recognition, and savvy librarians will steer violence junkies to this latest installment in a sensationally popular series. VERDICT The action is almost nonstop with (a near spoiler here) several heartbreaking scenes. Pay attention to the cliff-hanging ending. You can almost hear an announcer say, “Wait, there’s more!”

Benson, Angela. The Summer of Me. Morrow. Apr. 2016. 352p. ISBN 9780062002723. pap. 51YhZJae2zL[1]$14.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062346742. F
Six years after former husband Kenneth broke her heart, Destiny finds herself with twins KJ and Kenae growing up too fast. Short on cash, Destiny realizes her job at Marshall’s isn’t cutting it, and best friend Bertice lectures her, “You can’t depend on child support forever.” Kenneth and his new wife announce they will keep the twins for the summer in Los Angeles while Destiny tries to save up some money to move to a better suburb of Atlanta. What Destiny doesn’t anticipate is sexy preacher man Daniel Thomas coming into her life, but she wants to take it slow and not make a mistake over a man. At the same time Bertice is caught up in a pyramid scam and attempts to pull Destiny in with her. Who knows all about this crime? None other than Preacher Daniel who also runs an investigation agency. Love will have to go some distance to conquer all. Benson (Delilah’s Daughters; Up Pops the Devil) has created a sympathetic character in Destiny who strives so hard to succeed with noble intentions. Bertice is a hoot as the sidekick, and, of course, Daniel is the guy every girl dreams about. VERDICT Recommend this one to readers who love a gentle story with just a touch of drama.

De Leòn, Aya. Uptown Thief. Dafina: Kensington. Aug. 2016. 352p. ISBN 9781496704702. pap. $9.95; ebk. ISBN 9781496704719. F
51RtcDxckAL[1]Marisol Rivera bends over backwards to help fallen women on the streets of New York City, but her women’s health clinic is in desperate need of funding. Our lady with the heart of gold is bold enough to rob the wealthy she meets during fundraising dinners. She hates that CEOs of major companies have condoned sex trafficking and believes stealing their money is the right thing to do. Despite her Robin Hood image, Marisol is a conflicted soul and keeps people at arm’s length, especially when picking up guys in bars for quick and random sex. What this strong Latina woman doesn’t count on is an ex-cop from her past coming into her life just when she’s setting up billionaire Jeremy VanDyke for a heist. Yet, she knows what’s important and tells her staff, “But as long as the female a#s outearns the female brain, there are gonna be sex workers who need our clinic.” De León, who teaches poetry at the University of California, Berkley, has written a first novel loaded with heart. Marisol is totally dedicated to her cause, but the author is wise to not make Marisol a saint but rather deeply flawed. VERDICT There is a dearth of Latino/Latina characters in urban fiction, and this new author’s hard-hitting tale is a welcome addition.

Mason, J.D. The Real Mrs. Price. Griffin: St. Martin’s. May 2016. 336p. ISBN 9781250052254. pap. $15.99; ebk. ISBN 9781466853751. F
Lucy Price thinks she knows her husband, Ed, until his 51hJ33+5j9L[1]friend Chuck Harris is killed and Ed disappears. Ed, who was laundering money, soon marries Marlowe, an African American woman living near Blink, TX. A practitioner of Louisiana voodoo, she worries about what the bones are telling her when a badly burned body is found and nobody can determine if it’s Ed. On Ed’s trail are PI Roman Medlock, a former addict hired by Lucy, and a mysterious bounty hunter–type named Plato Wells. Marlowe believes Plato is the evil presence she saw while reading the bones. Or is he the devil? Yet the question everyone wants answered is why Ed married two women, one white and the other black? Mason (Crazy, Sexy, Revenge; Drop Dead, Gorgeous) writes a murky whodunit with a touch of the supernatural; however, some readers may find the plot too cluttered. Still, Marlowe is a strong, sensual woman who guards her privacy with the help of a barrier spell on her steps. VERDICT Push this one to readers who enjoy an atmospheric novel with plenty of twists and turns.

Monroe, Mary. Every Woman’s Dream. Dafina: Kensington. Jun. 2016. 384p. ISBN 9781617737985. $25; ebk. ISBN 9781617737992. F
516BKK1V+NL[1]There’s nothing wrong with playing a little prank on older lonely men, is there? Seventeen-year-old best friends Lola Poole and Joan Procter think not as they write pen-pal letters (this is the pre-Internet era) to a lonely hearts magazine column. Soon enough the old coots are sending checks, but the girls fail to keep the money on the down-low. Over the next 15 years the two young women experience many of life’s issues, from pregnancy to relationships with men who are just lousy dogs. Joan hates her OCD husband and strays with the help of online “dating” site Discreet Encounters. She then convinces Lola to take some walks on the wild side. But nobody hits Lola’s hot button except on-the-road truck driver Calvin whom she can’t get out of her thoughts. Maybe she’s out of her mind thinking love can happen sight unseen? Monroe (Bad Blood; God Ain’t Through Yet) once again includes crazy sidekick characters, outlandish family members, and authentic slang in an epic novel that spans a generation.VERDICT There are moments when impatient readers hope that Monroe gets on with the plot, but they should not give up. There’s a great twist in the final chapters that will have them pounding the table.

Overstreet, Jason. The Strivers’ Row Spy. Dafina: Kensington. Sept. 2016. 448p. ISBN 9781496701763. $25; ebk. ISBN 9781496701770. F
As a member of a black bourgeois family in 1920s 51-HhgzQ1lL[1]Harlem, Sidney Temple benefits from having a college education. Shortly after graduation, he’s plucked by the FBI to keep an eye on two African American leaders who are at odds with each other, Marcus Garvey and W.E.B. Du Bois. Sidney is suspicious of Garvey’s “Back to Africa” movement and wonders where he gets his money, but he also wants to alert Du Bois of Garvey’s actions. Soon our hero, who enjoys the Harlem Renaissance atmosphere of artists and musicians, is playing both sides against the middle. A demanding FBI director, J. Edgar Hoover, wants results, and Sidney has to endure blatant racism from his coworkers. The more Sidney learns about Garvey’s inner circle, the more danger he encounters. Perhaps the upper-middle-class neighborhood of Strivers’ Row isn’t that safe. Despite the challenges of leading a double life, Sidney remains loyal to his work. Debut author Overstreet evokes the excitement and jazzy atmosphere of an era and a city in which black artists, writers, musicians, and intellectuals created a cultural movement known as the Harlem Renaissance. VERDICT With so few popular historical fiction titles written by and about African American historical figures, this is a fine choice for all collections.

 

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