Desperate Times | African American Fiction (and More)

The phrase “desperate times call for desperate measures” is especially true for December’s selections. Whether plunging into a gang war or jockeying to be plucked as a millionaire’s wife, the characters in these novels find themselves caught up in desperate situations. Some will turn to God and others will rely on superior firepower.

This month’s Pick is Rhonda Bowen’s romantic and intriguing tale about the topsy-turvy world of the R&B music industry and the challenges that threaten a young women’s spirituality.


Pick of the Month

OrangeReviewStar Family Ties | African American Fiction (and More)Bowen, Rhonda. Hitting the Right Note. Dafina: Kensington. Apr. 2014. 384p. ISBN 9780758281395. pap. $15; ebk. ISBN 9780758281418. F bowen
Following career dreams or following God is the message in Bowen’s companion novel to Get You Good. Here the spotlight shifts to another Isaac sister from Toronto, JJ. Happy to be a backup singer to Jayla Grey, 26-year-old JJ is stunned when an audition lands her a touring spot with R&B sensation Deacon Hill. But the furious all-out lifestyle of post-show partying wears on JJ who finds herself drained emotionally and spiritually. She’s desperate to reconnect with the serenity of the church but feels herself pulled in many directions when her singing talent explodes on stage. Complicating her decision is Dr. Simon Massri, a man she met over five years ago but who now is involved with JJ’s sister-in-law’s unstable pregnancy. JJ needs guidance only found with a serious sit down in a church pew.
VERDICT There’s a lot of will-she-or-won’t-she going on here as JJ dithers between taking the plunge with Simon instead of throwing herself into her career. The measured pacing picks up with a nifty twist that occurs two-thirds into the novel. JJ is a likable soul, and readers will be inspired on how she handles her dilemmas.

Bradshaw, Nicole. Champagne Life. Strebor: S. & S. (Zane Presents). Jan. 2014. 384p. ISBN 9781593094850. pap. $15; ebk. ISBN 9781476703930. F
Naomi Knowles is deeply in love with her sexy husband, DeShaun, but they struggle financially with their low-paying jobs in Philadelphia. DeShaun sometimes pulls in tips at his waiter gig but more often fends off sexual offers from drunken Mrs. Herjavec. At her banking job Naomi also deals with unwanted flirting from coworker Jeremy. Naomi and DeShaun laugh off these awkward situations until they realize they’re totally broke. Should DeShaun become a paid escort for Mrs. Herjavec? Should Naomi use Jeremy as a connection to a new job? Money woes lead to desperate decisions as Naomi and DeShaun’s relationship unravels from hot lust into angry betrayal.
VERDICT Bradshaw’s (Caviar Dreams) lengthy novel features alternating episodes marked by a whodunit opening scene that will pique interest, but readers will have to put up with tedious dithering about several love affairs. Push this one to patrons who request stories along the lines of television soap operas.

Cheríe, Jaye. The Cost of Love and Sanity. Strebor: S. & S. (Zane Presents). Jan. 2014. cherie304p. ISBN 9781593095093. pap. $15; ebk. ISBN 9781476733395. F
Alex Carter is distressed that Phillip, her selfish control freak of a boyfriend, walked out on her, leaving her without a man or children. A recruitment manager, she throws herself into planning an elaborate job fair but at age 35 feels her biological clock ticking. She gazes longingly at a Babies”R”Us store and then feels a twinge of jealousy when picking out a friend’s baby shower gift. What about the sperm donor method? Alex decides that the $595 price tag from a 6’1” African American male weighing 195 pounds is a bit steep. Just in time this desperado girl runs into Nathan, a sexy guy she kicked it with a decade ago. Sparks rekindle as girl meets boy and, of course, loses boy. Seriously Alex, is Nathan really worth it?
VERDICT Readers will question if Alex is a bit too witchy, accusing Nathan of cheating with only sketchy evidence. Still, scenes of makeup sex add a steamy edge to this gentle romance by the author of The Golddigger’s Club that shows an older African American career woman struggling to find everlasting love.

Santiago, Nisa. Cartier Cartel 3: South Beach Slaughter. Melodrama Pub. 2013. 258p. ISBN 9781620780275. pap. $15. F
Bloody violence? Check. Gangland wars? Check. Betrayal? Double check. All this and more are part of Cartier Timmons’s world after leaving her beloved Brooklyn for Miami’s South Beach. She meets up with sexy Quinn, who is the sister of Hector, leader of the Ghost Ridas. Cartier and Quinn hit the clubs partying hard until tragedy hits home. The women desperately seek revenge but find themselves caught in the middle of a war between Ghost Ridas and another gang. Reinforcement arrives when ride-or-die chick Lil’ Mama hits Miami, telling Cartier she’s down with whatever. “Whatever” ends up meaning brutal executions that leave a gruesome mess for the cops to sort out. Yet, Cartier senses something’s not right and she’s being set up. These women prove femininity isn’t necessarily a sign of weakness.
VERDICT Santiago’s writing has a straight up street vibe, and her latest Cartier adventure (after Return of the Cartier Cartel) zooms at breakneck speed. Readers don’t have to wait long between violent scenes, each more brutal than the last. Load up on copies. Patrons will demand more of “those Nisa Santiago books.”

Warren, Tiffany L. The Replacement Wife. Dafina: Kensington. Mar. 2014. 276p. ISBN  warren9780758280602. pap. $15. F
Chloe Brooks is vexed that Atlanta multimillionaire widower Quentin Chambers has strung her along for five years. A true gold digger, Chloe has given it her best shot at the elusive wedding ring, starting by thrusting her surgically enhanced bosom in Quentin’s face during his wife’s funeral. Quentin is further distracted by Montana Ellis, the new nanny for his five children, who brings a Mary Poppins sweetness to the depressed household. Chloe realizes the power of a black lace teddy that allows her to spend Quentin’s cash for Louis Vuitton bags and Louboutin heels. On the other hand Montana knows her way around a kitchen and encourages Quentin’s children to joyfully sing church songs. These two women have no hope of coexisting in Quentin’s world but his replacement wife decision is put on hold when out of desperation, Chloe concocts a nasty scheme to smear Montana.
VERDICT Strong messages about the power of faith, church, and prayer carry this rags-to-riches romance with a definite fairy tale vibe. Savvy librarians will recommend this gentle read to patrons who are also dedicated church ladies.

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