Church Ladies, Preachers, Gangstas | African American Fiction (and More)

I have that old Sesame Street song in my head for this month’s selections: “One of these things is not like the others. One of these things just doesn’t belong, can you tell which thing is not like the others?” Four solid African American inspirational titles populate this month’s column, but also included is a major urban fiction author’s latest work. Wahida Clark’s writing is loaded with thrills, but her characters’ faith relies on a .38 Special pistol.

The pick of the month is Angela Benson’s behind-the-scenes peek at the music industry and how success can lead people away from their roots.

PICk of the month

OrangeReviewStar Whats in a Name? | African American Fiction (and More)Benson, Angela. Delilah’s Daughters. Harper. 2014. 368p. ISBN 9780062002716. pap. $13.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062101396. CF
Delilah Monroe has tried to build a strong sense of family benson1and faith around her three daughters who form a talented Southern gospel/pop trio called Delilah’s Daughters. Veronica, Alisha, and Roxanne are cautioned to think of their beauty and talent as gifts from God. Yet by wearing two hats as the girls’ manager and mother, Delilah oversees all aspects of her daughters’ lives until the group comes in second on the reality show Sing for America. A major record label offers Veronica—the most charismatic sister—a chance to become a star along the lines of Beyoncé, and a family split ensues. As Delilah struggles to keep her family together, secrets and lies are slowly revealed that further damage the family faith and trust. VERDICT Benson’s (Up Pops the Devil) story begins with a sweet togetherness that rings false, but stay with this one. The hidden secrets that rock the family foundation will require a whole lot of prayer to overcome each woman’s weakness. The soap opera-esque plot manages to avoid sugary melodrama and gives readers interesting subplots, landing between inspirational fiction and true romance writing. The journey is long, but the end result is satisfying, sort of like hearing clear voices rising in song on Sunday morning.

Bowen, Michele Andrea. Pastor Needs a Boo. Griffin: St. Martin’s. Jul. 2014. 384p. ISBN 9780312643379. pap. $15.99. CF
Marsha Metcalf has hit rock bottom after being viciously fired by her grown-up mean girl of a boss. The desperate single mom turns to New Jerusalem Gospel United Church for support, a place where the sexy pastor Denzelle Flowers preaches each Sunday. Bowen’s latest inspirational work (Up at the College; More Church Folk) pulls readers behind the scenes at an African American mega-church, and there’s plenty going on. Pastor Denzelle decides to run for bishop but doesn’t realize haters are more than willing to sabotage the race. The nastiness starts with witchy Tatiana, who is Denzelle’s ex-wife, and continues with a group of corrupt preachers who don’t want church power to shift to a charismatic younger man. Does Marsha stand a chance for true love through all this drama? As the church folk say, “Make a way out of no-way.” VERDICT Bowen’s lengthy tale takes many detours to develop subplots that detract from the main storyline of Denzelle and Marsha’s blossoming romance. Excessive descriptions of every thought, piece of clothing, and acts by even minor characters will frustrate readers. That said, there are plenty of biblical quotes and Bowen certainly knows all about the sizzling relationships between pastors and church ladies. [Library marketing.]

Clark, Wahida. Blood, Sweat & Payback. Cash Money Content, dist. by Atria. Apr. 2014. 236p. ISBN 9781936399505. $22.99; ebk. ISBN 9781936399420.payback
Clark’s epic power struggle for Detroit streets continues in this latest installment of her Payback series (Payback Ain’t Enough; Payback with Ya Life). Once again there’s more than a full cast of characters that can be confusing, but it really doesn’t matter. All of these thugs are ballas, but most of them have limited shelf lives. Kingpin Big Choppa is dying of cancer and his throne is up for grabs along with the all-important drug connect. His daughter Chrystal may know about “the connect” so Dark offers to marry her in his self-interested ploy by rationalizing, “The only thing better than f*#4ing the connect is being married to it.” Clark sets the girls against the boys in a street war where everyone lacks loyalty. Indeed, as one gangsta states, “Self-preservation is the first law of nature.” VERDICT Clark writes with a fierce hand and is not timid about offing anyone—including characters she spent pages developing—with increasingly gruesome death scenes. Instant author name recognition, rough and nasty sex scenes, and wild shootouts mark this work that will be sure hit for hardened urban fiction readers.

Roby, Kimberla Lawson. The Prodigal Son. Grand Central. May. 2014. 336p. ISBN 9781455526130. $26; ebk. ISBN 9781455578665. CF
The backbiting jealousy of one Illinois family keeps pushing forward in Roby’s latest installment of her Reverend Curtis Black series (The Reverend’s Wife; A House Divided). Matthew, a son of Reverend Black, married young at age 19, and now 10 months later he has had enough of his lazy wife Raquel who passes her days on the couch watching TV reality shows. Their shaky relationship continues because Matthew wants his young son, MJ, to grow up with two parents. Matthew is slowly returning to good standing with his father’s church, but the story then shifts to his half-brother Dillon, who is a ticking time bomb of rage and jealousy playing Cain to Matthew’s Abel. This is truly a dysfunctional family hiding their sins behind pseudo-dedication to the church. When things get really nasty they have the nerve to say, “Let go and let God.”  As if. VERDICT Series fans will enjoy how the sins of the father are visited on his sons. However, new readers may possibly be confused about the complicated family relationships that were set up in previous volumes. That said, interest will be piqued by deceitful acts of abuse and lust behind closed doors. [See Prepub Alert, 11/18/13.]

Sanders, Yolanda Tonette. Wages of Sin. Strebor: Atria. (Protective Detective) Apr. 2014. 352p. ISBN 9781593094737. pap. $15. CF 
Sanders (In Times of Trouble) puts on spin on traditional wagesofsininspirational fiction by a graphic CSI vibe with the emotional drama of keeping marriages strong by relying on the Scriptures. Det. Troy Evans is vexed by a strange serial killer case in which four women, each of a different racial profile, are found murdered with an open Bible set on their chests. Odder still is Reverend Eric Freeman of the Tabernacle of Jesus Church, who has a psychic insight on where the bodies are dumped. Scenes alternate between the killer’s work—who is tagged as “The Avenger”—and Evans’s marriage, strained by his dedication to police work. Tension is amped as the press sensationalizes the increasing body count. Plenty of cleverly placed red herrings keep the pages turning as frustrated families give it up to God saying, “Let God do what He gon’ do.” VERDICT Sanders juggles several balls in the air, but sometimes drops one when she inserts Scripture quotes at inappropriate moments, breaking the crackling serial killer tension. Still, the pace is fast. Detective Evans is an admirable man and the emphasis on family can be a welcome break from hardcore urban fiction.

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