Spreading the Gospel | African American Fiction (and More)

“Blues are the songs of despair, but gospel songs are the songs of hope.”—
Mahalia Jackson

Mahalia Jackson’s words may be adapted to illustrate the differences between various subgenres of African American popular fiction. Like the big gap that separates gospel music from the blues, novels tagged as urban romance and urban Christian fiction are often rags-to-riches tales emphasizing forgiveness, far from the sex and crime world of street lit. In this month’s selections, we shift from the mean streets to small towns where forgiveness allows relationships to bloom.

The pick of the month, Pat G’Orge-Walker’s Sister Betty Says I Do zeroes in on the hilarious shenanigans going on with the flock of an African American church. It’s a laugh-out-loud hoot.


OrangeReviewStar Ladies with Attitude | African American Fiction (and More)G’Orge-Walker, Pat. Sister Betty Says I Do. Dafina: Kensington. Sept. 2013. 304p. ISBN 9780758289858. pap. $15. ebk. ISBN 9780758289872.  F
Sister Betty Sarah Becton and Trustee Freddie Noel (skinny and yellow as a number two pencil) are both on the far side of 60 but decide to jump the broom. But there ain’t no drama like wedding-planning drama, especially in the small South Carolina town of Pelzer. Sweating in the Southern heat like “Friday night strippers sitting on Sunday morning church’s second pew,” church mothers Sasha Pray Onn and Bea Blister worry over Sister Betty’s plans. But Freddie’s off-and-on health issues may delay the big event. A wild bunch of extended family and church folk meddle in the plans lending the story a hilarious reality show vibe. Stealing scenes are Sweet Betty’s cousin Sharvon and sexy hot Ima, each batting their eyelashes at muscled and sexy Rev. Leotis Tom. Down-home humor, scripture readings, and outrageous trash talk. Priceless. VERDICT Might there be an emerging subgenre of urban Christian romantic comedy? No matter how vendors categorize G’Orge-Walker’s work (Sister Betty! God’s Calling You, Again; Don’t Blame the Devil) it’s a wonderful romp that will have wide appeal to both sinners and saints.

Billingsley, ReShonda Tate. A Family Affair. Gallery: S. & S. Jul. 2013. 336p. ISBN 9781451639698. pap. $16; ebk. ISBN 9781451639711. F
A sexual indiscretion prompts shock waves 17 years later in prolific author Billingsley’s (The Secret She Kept; Say Amen, Again) latest novel. After Los Angeles CEO Bernard Wells’s affair with the family nanny is exposed, his wife Adele bans Lorraine Dawson and her three-year-old daughter Olivia from the home. When Lorraine dies years later, Olivia pieces together her past and moves from Houston poverty to wealthy L.A., determined to show her wimpy father her wrath up close and personal. But Bernard has the nerve to hire her in his business, which makes everyone, including his slacker son Kendall, believe Olivia is Bernard’s latest mistress. Lots of anger boils throughout Billingsley’s tale of betrayal and search for forgiveness, especially in Adele who was born with a hater’s DNA. VERDICT The strong message of working your way through life’s problems places this novel under the umbrella of inspirational fiction. The many twists keep the pages turning, rewarding readers with a solid, but not stunning, story. Billingsley’s name will prompt many requests. Purchase accordingly.

Ellis, Shelly. The Player & the Game: A Gibbons Gold Digger Novel. Dafina: Kensington. Sept. 2013. 315p. ISBN 9780758290373. pap. $15. F
Returning to Chesterton, VA, home of the gold-digging Gibbons girls, Ellis’s latest series entry focuses on Stephanie, who is over the moon about Isaac Beardan, a smooth talker who gives her a cherry red SL550 Mercedes Benz, then asks her to marry him. Can’t get better than that, right? Sorry Stephanie, it gets worse. Grifter Isaac preys on women’s bank accounts up and down the East Coast. When a debit card check reveals that her bank balance is $1.14, Stephanie realizes that Isaac has cleaned her out of $60,000. Furious and bent on revenge, she meets private investigator Keith Hendricks, who has been tracking Isaac. This odd couple, determined to hunt down the con man, still find time to canoodle in juicy sex as they follow clues to Miami where Isaac the player has ramped up his game. VERDICT With a light-hearted touch, Ellis doesn’t miss a step in this second installment of her Gibbons girls’ adventures (after Can’t Stand the Heat). Ellis has put her stamp on a warm mix of silliness, romantic repartee, and steamy between-the-sheets romps that mark this winning story.

Hobbs, Allison. No Boundaries. Strebor: Atria. (Zane Presents) Jul. 2013. 292p. ISBN 9781593094188. pap. $15. F
Newly minted lawyer Jaguar Jackson has trouble finding a position that pays more than a public defender’s minimum salary. So he scores a bridge job as a bartender in a Philadelphia bar called The Dive. He hopes for lucrative tips, but what goes on is drunken debauchery and nasty bathroom sex. Alternating chapters detail how Fonia has been molded into a totally submissive female by the controlling Mr. Lord. How these two cross paths is a story of pure erotica heavy on BDSM (bondage & discipline/domination & submission/sadism & masochism). VERDICT Hobbs (Insatiable; The Sorceress) attempts to form a story of how past circumstances mold Jaguar and Fonia into highly sexual people. But the back stories fall short as the novel turns into a series of loosely joined, increasingly graphically detailed sexual trysts. Not for the prudish reader.

Morrison, Mary B. I’d Rather Be With You. Dafina: Kensington. (If I Can’t Have You). Aug. 2013. 242p. ISBN 9780758273024. $24. F
Madison Tyler just makes it to the altar only to have new husband Roosevelt “Chicago” DuBois gunned down by Granville Washington, a madman stalker that Madison sexed in a one night stand…as a bet with her best friend Loretta. After being shot three times, Chicago, who is the beloved general manager of Houston’s pro football team, is on life support. Madison signs the papers to pull the plug only to have Chicago continue to draw breath with help from the tender touch from (once again!) Madison’s best friend Loretta. Morrison weaves a story drenched in jealousy, cheating, pregnancy (Madison’s not quite sure of the father’s identity), and Madison’s battle with breast cancer. To top it all off, the birthing room finale has weird Rosemary’s Baby vibes that will leave readers gasping in shock. VERDICT Written in a multiple-points-of view style, Morrison’s sequel to If I Can’t Have You is rather jumbled with lots of flashback and setup attempting to explain the various relationships. Morrison has a huge following. Buy in anticipation of high demand.

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