Cozy or Rough | African American Fiction (and More)

This month treats us to new releases from popular authors of urban fiction, a hip-hop artist’s debut novel, plus an epic soap opera about the continuing frustrations of women dealing with low-down men. Yet a cozy murder mystery centered on the owner of a soul food restaurant and her sassy cousin is great fun and offers an entertaining change of pace. K’Wan continues to be writing at the top of his game, and his new novel, Diamonds and Pearl, is my pick of the month.

Pick of the Month

91N+HKwyseL[1]OrangeReviewStar Defending Your Castle | African American Fiction (And More!)K’Wan. Diamonds and Pearl. Griffin: St. Martin’s. Oct. 2016. 416p. ISBN 9781250102614. pap. $16.99; ebk. ISBN 9781250102621. F
Diamonds is a young gangster determined to rise out of New Orleans’ muck following Hurricane Katrina; his loyal crew follows him on a murderous crime spree  first to Texas and then over to Florida, but this up-and-coming hustler has his eyes on the big prize—New York City’s drug game. Meanwhile, 17-year-old Pearl, daughter of Harlem drug kingpin Big Stone, is wilding out with risky sexual encounters and hitting nightclubs with her girl pals. Soon enough Diamonds and Pearl cross paths, and a thunderbolt of lust strikes in a Romeo and Juliet way. Setting this tale apart from just another hood shoot-‘em-up are well-developed secondary characters loyal to the main players. Buda, Diamonds’s right-hand man, is fueled by an alcohol rage, itching to kill and kill again. On the other side, Knowledge, a force behind Big Stone, protects Pearl and studies how the streets are buzzing from Diamond’s cruelty. Mix in more than a few ooo-la-la sexual trysts and the result is top-notch street lit. VERDICT The author of Hood Rat and Gutter excels in his latest title, and his ear for street slang remains sharp and on point. The abrupt ending leaves readers thirsty for more. Let’s hope there’s a sequel in the mix as this is one of the top urban fiction novels of the year.

61twtOT+tNL[1]Fox, Mazaradi. The Game Don’t Change. Infamous: Akashic. Nov. 2016. 248p. ISBN 9781617754821. pap. $12.95; ebk. ISBN 9781504772389. F
Having grown up on the streets of South Jamaica, Queens, Fox wrote this first novel in 2013 while incarcerated at the Orleans Correctional Facility. After moving to rap music as a pal of artist 50 Cent, in 2014 the author unfortunately was gunned down by a killer in a black ski mask. Here, Teen DeMarco Jones finds himself in a correctional center to do a bid for 18 months. By luck he breaks out and returns to the streets and starts dealing. Short on a cohesive plot, Fox’s tale is instead a series of snapshots of outlandish scenes of passion and violence. Many passages read like prisoners’ sexual fantasies—from women offering sex (even a female corrections officer) to trysts with multiple partners, including a pair of sisters. It seems over the top that all of DeMarco’s many women seduce him and then thank him afterward. VERDICT The writing is unpolished, but the dialog has an authentic ring to it. Street lit readers may like the fast-moving chapters of brutality and outrageous sex, but this may be more of regional purchase, especially for Queens homebodies and fans of 50 Cents’s G-Unit crew.

51L-samMlsL[1]OrangeReviewStar Defending Your Castle | African American Fiction (And More!)Herbert, A.L. Murder with Macaroni and Cheese: A Mahalia Watkins Soul Food Mystery. Kensington. Sept. 2016. 266p. ISBN 9781617731761. pap. $15; ebk. ISBN 9781617731778. M
Mahalia (Halia) Watkins, the fortysomething owner of a soul food restaurant in Prince George County, MD, knows her way around a stove, but she also has a keen nose for solving murders. In her second cozy outing (after Murder with Fried Chicken and Waffles), she ponders an offer from Raynell Rollins to cater their 20th high school reunion. Both Halia and her cousin Wavonne, who has a wisecrack for every situation, sense trouble from this woman who hasn’t outgrown being a mean girl. Halia’s nosy mother and Wavonne push Halia to attend the reunion, with Wavonne telling her to “quit being a frumpadump” and find a man. It takes some time for a dead body to show up, but once the murder happens, Halia and Wavonne slip into Holmes and Watson mode to track down the clues. The game is afoot! VERDICT This terrific addition to the food cozy niche is absolutely delightful!  Herbert even spaces in a few recipes to entertain her fans. Sure the grits and sausage casserole sounds yummy, but what about those all-natural margaritas? Halia is an everywoman that nobody dislikes but Wavonne is another story with her bodacious insults. When seeing a promotional poster for Raynell’s reality business, she cracks, “She almost doesn’t look like a Rottweiler.”

51rFwM2YODL[1]Swinson, Kiki & Saundra. Schemes. Dafina: Kensington. Oct. 2016. 217p. ISBN 9781617733659. pap. $15; ebk. ISBN 9781617733666. F
Two best-selling authors have written a pair of novellas centered on the theme of trying to get over on other people. In the “Devil in Sheep’s Clothing,” Swinson (The Score; Heist) tells of two broke Virginia Beach sisters, Karlie and Miley Houston, who concoct a scheme that could net them over $100,000. The sisters each work at separate EZ Cash locations, and Karlie figures she can coordinate the perfect heist with boyfriend Sidney’s crew. No spoiler here: they do get the money, but as the old saying goes, “be careful what you wish for.” In “Twisted Deception,” Saundra (Her Sweetest Revenge) introduces Yazz, who has graduated from her St. Louis high school yet has no job. Her buddy Mimi tells her to put her bangin’ body to use and strip at the Cheetah Club for loads of cash. Yazz balks; however, soon enough dope boy Kevon is showering her with love and cash. Ah, but there’s a catch. Kevon instructs Yazz to flirt with Caesar, St. Louis’s top drug dealer, so Kevon can move up in the drug game. Yazz hates the deception, but who can she believe? VERDICT Both stories move fast, and the themes of betrayal will thrill genre fans. Swinson’s writing is bold, incorporating gruesome torture and rough sex, while Saundra’s more subdued tale features a complicated ending that may have to be read twice to clarify the backstabbing. Two stories for the price of one are a great deal though.

Series Update

51eDXe1+nfL[1]Poole, Daaimah S. His Last Name. Dafina: Kensington. Oct. 2016. 352p. ISBN 9781496701589. pap. $15; ebk. ISBN 9781496701596. F
Poole’s follow-up to Pretty Girls in the VIP and A Rich Man’s Baby revolves around five women vexed by the men in their lives, or men who have stepped away. Alternating chapters among Monique, Shanice, Adrienne, Tiffany, and Zakiya reveal their desperation of being confronted with child custody battles, cheating men, and financial bankruptcy. New to the cast is Monique, a mother of an NBA draftee, who spends quite a bit of her son’s $7 million signing bonus, to say nothing of hooking up with a younger man. VERDICT There’s quite a lot going on here, and readers may find it difficult to keep track of the various story lines. There’s a definite soap opera vibe, but the author’s fans will bond over the difficult decisions these woman are forced to make about their men.

 

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