Family Ties | African American Fiction (and More)

Several family members play a part in this month’s selections, and they alternate among being loving, dysfunctional, or ultimately loyal. Sometimes they mean well but stick their noses into the protagonists’ romantic plans. Other times they can be a pain—deadbeat dads and eager-to-give-free-advice aunts and uncles—that won’t go away. No matter what, it’s good to know somebody you grew up with has your back.

That said, having your family nodding and smiling in a live television audience as you climb on a huge scale broadcasting your alarming weight gain is not a good look. That’s just one awkward situation Carissa Wayne endures in the Pick of the Month below.

Pick of the Month

OrangeReviewStar Relationship Talk | African American Fiction (and More)Grant, Michele. Losing to Win. Dafina: Kensington. Oct. 2013. 288p. ISBN 9780758289636. pap. $14; ebk. ISBN 9780758289650. F
Carissa Wayne knows that 15 years after her high school cheerleading days she’s now more fluffy than lean, but has she really gained 70 pounds? Sadly, yes. Her extended Louisiana family has manipulated her to be a contestant on Losing to Win, a popular weight-loss reality show. Risa’s not wild about having her full figure broadcast nationwide, but if taking one for the team means a cash flow for her Louisiana hometown of Belle Haven, she’s okay with that. What she doesn’t count on is her ex-fiancé and former NFL star Malachi Knight being her partner on the show. Soon enough Mal and Risa are slogging through muddy obstacle courses and other weight loss tortures as they endure the show’s producers shouting platitudes like getting “amped” on their “total wellness.” Ha! We know better. This is all about Carissa reconnecting with the love of her life. VERDICT There’s a paint-by-numbers romantic vibe here with the jealousy monster opening its green eyes along with backbiting, snappy repartee, and sexy glances from across the room. Yet, Carissa is a solid Southern woman with a lovely heart, and readers will hope she’s rewarded with a happily-ever-after life. Grant (Pretty Boy Problems; Sweet Little Lies) has written a light story spiced up with some juicy parts that will please many readers.

Christy, Tamika. Anytime Soon. BQB Publishing. 2013 277p. ISBN 9781937084950. pap. $18.95.  F
Anaya Goode is a 24-year-old psychology major who desires to find her own way in life by breaking away from her extended family. She’s really never wanted for anything, and her strong-willed mother considers her spoiled. Naya’s path to adulthood is tricky. Best friend Sophie is addicted to cocaine, and another friend, Catie, is a high-priced prostitute. Naya’s big-hearted family deals with problems of alcoholism and dysfunctional relationships in the wacky style of a Tyler Perry film. Yet when she makes mistakes, our heroine learns she’s not alone and support is readily at hand. VERDICT Christy’s tale is one of family values, forgiveness, and redemption. Many readers will see their own extended family in the large cast of characters. The amateurish writing contains lots of telling, not showing, with different scenes popping up with little or no transition. Dialog is marked with adverbs as folks speak boldly, nicely, gently, and playfully. Despite these flaws, there’s heart in this debut with tragedy bringing all the family’s pieces and parts together. Worth consideration. [BQB Publishing is a hybrid publisher, incorporating both traditional publishing and self-publishing elements—Ed.]

Hobbs, Allison. With This Ring. Strebor: S. & S. (Zane Presents). Oct. 2013. 352p. ISBN 9781593094676. pap. $15; ebk. ISBN 9781451697025. F
Hobbs’s sequel to Put a Ring On It picks up the drama of Nivea, Vangie, and Harlow, three friends dealing with lots of problems. At first there’s nothing too alarming going on as the girls move through common romance plot devices like getting pregnant, being desperate to get married, and manipulating men to get cash. Soon enough the stakes get serious, and the trio find themselves diving deep into alarming plights of jail, BDSM (Bondage Discipline Sadism Masochism), millions of mob money dollars, and a doomed lesbian hook-up. Readers will shake their heads over the warped way these ladies enter into relationships more for money than love. Selfish much? VERDICT Alternating voices and chapters keep the story lines moving, but there is a definite feel of soap-opera episodes in this female-focused novel. Men either have serious attitude problems or are painted as cartoons that sometimes come across as sexy and other times just gross. A chopped ending almost guarantees a third volume. Purchase where there was patron interest in the first book.

Tucker, Pat. Sideline Scandals. Strebor: S. & S. (Zane Presents). Sept. 2013. 352p. ISBN 9781593094799. pap. $15; ebk. ISBN 9781451698473. F
Women, fame, money, and the glitz of professional football all come together in a witch’s brew of drama. This sequel to Football Widows mines the ultra-popular Real Housewives TV series, revolves around members of the Football Widows Social Club. Each woman has a connection by marriage or girlfriend status to professional football players for the Los Angeles Sea Lions. Tossing a monkey wrench into this club is gossip talk show hostess Sasha Davenport who’s trying to concoct a scandal so networks can create a new reality show for her. Sasha sets her sights on married Dax Becall, Sea Lions star quarterback married to Tatyana. There’s no sisterhood honor going on here but rather no holds are barred, and it’s every woman for herself. A side scandal has Jerri Nelson, wife of star running back Jason Nelson shocked at pumping parties held at his mansion (pumping parties are illegal group injections of silicon into various body parts). Pumping parties? That’s a whole ‘nuther scandal! VERDICT It’s worth arguing who is the most despicable woman in this story. Everyone is climbing the fame ladder, and short chapters keep the pages turning. Fall weekends in America are all about football. Why not a behind-the-scenes look at women every bit as vicious as on-field action? A solid purchase.

Winters, Angela. Nothing to Lose. Dafina: Kensington. (D.C. Series). Dec. 2013. 320p. ISBN 9780758286567. pap. $15. F
This latest volume in Winters’s D.C. novels (after Back on Top and Almost Doesn’t Count) continues with her heroines’ trials and hardships as they try to become players in Washington’s political arena. Erica, Billie, and Sherise have now moved into jobs so prestigious that they have insider knowledge that can a make a difference in the upcoming presidential election. Especially damning is Erica who knows the dirty past of Jonah Nolan that could cause his presidential run to crash and burn—if she reveals the truth. Relationships ebb and flow as Erica, Billie, and Sherise all have connections with lobbyists while dealing their own personal issues in the bedroom. VERDICT Lengthy descriptions of almost everything the characters do from entering a conference room to stepping on a Metro train bogs down the three separate narratives. The tedious pace dulls any potential stunning surprises. Purchase if previous books in the series were popular.

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