Couples on the Rocks | African American Fiction (and More)

Relationships can be challenging with lovers walking on eggshells knowing good times are about to end. On the other hand a seemingly stable relationship may be decaying under a false front. Sure, folks are quick to put on a happy face, but readers know better. Mo’ money, mo’ problems.
This month’s selections  feature couples in crisis. Some will salvage their relationships, and others will meet an unfortunate end. But prolific author Reshonda Tate Billingsley’s latest novel adds an alarming twist to a cheating spouse tale.It’s my pick of the month.

PICK of the month

OrangeReviewStar Fuel to the Flame | African American Fiction (and More)Billingsley, ReShonda Tate. What’s Done in the Dark. Gallery. Jul. 2014. 303p. ISBN  whats-done-in-the-dark-9781476714929_lg9781476714929. pap. $15; ebk. ISBN 9781476715025. F
What starts off as another ho-hum romance with two married couples sick-of-their-spouses receives a nuclear boost of a twist in Billingsley’s (The Secret She Kept; A Family Affair) drama-laced novel. Felise Mavins is fed up with her OCD hubby Greg and seeks comfort in Houston’s Four Seasons bar with apple martini and vodka cranberry drinks. To her surprise Steven Wright pops in for an after-work drink, and alcohol releases pent-up frustration with his wife Paula’s selfish behavior. Longtime friends since college days, Felise and Steven admit a hot attraction to each other, and many drinks provide a launching pad for passion. Oh, and by the way, the real problem is Steven’s wife, Paula, is Felise’s BFF. Oh-oh, naughty, naughty! VERDICT This plot is a well-traveled path for romance novels, but (without spoilers) Billingsley sets up a riveting and suspenseful drama that brings to mind the nasty deception in Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl as Felise weaves more lies into an intricate web that may end up trapping her. Readers may find themselves so engaged they’ll pound a fist on their armrest and shout, “What is she thinking!!!” amazonYou know Billingsley’s many fans will want this; it would make a good book club choice too.

Grant, Michele. Any Man I Want. Dafina: Kensington. Aug. 2014. 288p. ISBN 9780758289667. pap. $15; ebk. ISBN 9780758289681. F
Katrina Montgomery, a supermodel dripping with money, certainly can have any man she wants.Yet this diva despises her role as an arm trophy for rich playboy Kevin Delancey. Following a Barbados photo shoot, Katrina realizes she needs a man who knows his way around a woman’s erogenous zones and kicks Kevin to the curb. Everyone knows rich folks don’t like being dissed ,and Kevin concocts outrageous media rumors about Katrina sleeping her way to the top. A phony sex tape goes viral, and protective brother Beau sends Carter “Big Sexy” Parks to bring her back to Dallas. Carter, a former NFL star and family friend, has been “in like” with Katrina for years, and soon they’re both thinking below the waist instead of above the neck. Katrina’s reputation requires extensive damage control but despite the drama, Katrina manages to find ways to wrap herself around Big Sexy. VERDICT Grant (Losing to Win; Heard It All Before) inserts many positives about successful African American men and women giving back to the community, but her story is truly about Katrina finding her prince.That said, once Carter and Katrina slide between the sheets, the tone shifts from sugary sweet to toe-curling steamy. A solid choice for fans who enjoy a juicy somethin’ mixed into a romantic tale.

Lovely, Lutishia. The Perfect Affair. Dafina: Kensington. (Shady Sisters, Vol. 1). Jun. 2014. 352p. ISBN  Lutisha The Perfect Affair9780758286659. pap. $15; ebk. ISBN 9780758286673. F
Trouble follows Dr. Randall Atwater when the distinguished biologist travels to a Los Angeles science convention and meets Jacqueline Tate at a taxi stand. The sexy freelance science writer says she’s often mistaken for Rihanna, and soon enough the married doctor invites her to dinner, the opera and…his hotel room? Falling hard in the belief that he’s “the one,” Jacqueline shares her excitement with bestie Kris, who cautions getting involved with a married man. Randall moves on to other conventions, and of course you-know-who shows up at each one. Jacqueline is well aware that a tight mini, plunging neckline, and stiletto heels will make it hard for Randall to resist her. But Randall’s wife, Sherri, suspects something is up and wonders if hubby is cheating with this gorgeous woman.Jacqueline certainly is seductive enough, but can she pry Randall from his wife and family? Dude, never underestimate the power of a woman who wants something badly enough. VERDICT Readers recalling Glenn Close’s character in the 1987 movie Fatal Attraction will immediately see what is going on, but that doesn’t matter. The juicy key is how Jacqueline manipulates Randall in all sorts of ways, including fake text messages that raises stalking to a new level. The story’s hero? Sherri—readers will cheer for her. Prolific author Lovely (“Hallelujah Love” series) launches a new “Shady Sisters”  trilogy with this novel.

Monroe, Mary. Family of Lies. Dafina: Kensington. Jun. 2014. 432p. ISBN 9780758274748. $25; ebk. ISBN 9780758294715. F
The front cover’s tagline for Monroe’s (The Company We Keep; God Don’t Make No Mistakes) new novel declares “Every family’s got something to hide.” Bingo! Kenneth and Vera Lomax co-exist in an uneasy marriage laced with cheating. Vera, although well north of 50, enjoys a stable of young lovers—several as young as 19. Kenneth is also no saint and has fathered a child with his secretary. Years pass, and Kenneth’s daughter, Sarah. moves into their San Francisco mansion. Conniving Vera sees Sarah as an opportunity to manipulate Kenneth’s wealth when the old guy kicks the bucket. Joining  the quirky cast are cousins Bo and Cash arriving from Houston to feed off of Vera’s scheme. Things get more complicated when Sarah falls in love with Bo, but she also feels an itch to cheat. All this creeping builds to a situation best described as, “You can cheat but cannot hide.” At one point a frustrated character blurts, “The more dirt I have on her, the deeper the hole I can bury her in—and I’d like to throw a snake in behind her.”  Hmmm, I’d hate to sit in on this crew’s Thanksgiving dinner. VERDICT There’s quite a lag in the middle of Monroe’s story, which is badly in need of some editorial pruning, but readers will stick with it to see if these despicable folks get what’s coming to them. Monroe enjoys instant name recognition as a top African American author, and her latest work will certainly be in demand.

Quadeer, Umar. Enemy Bloodline. Wahida Clark Presents.  2014. 300p. ISBN 9781936649075. pap. $15; ebk. ISBN 9781936649037. quadeer
Sometimes a street lit novel can read like a reverse Western. Instead of an unassuming cowhand eliminating bad guys and cleaning up the town, the urban fiction hero is an everyman who rises to lead a criminal gang by ruthlessly eliminating his competition. That’s what happens in Quadeer’s hard-hitting tale of revenge and murder on North Philly’s streets. Spaz Henchman, the son of an African American gangsta and an Italian mother, joins the BBF (Black Boss Family) as a teenager and earns respect by committing several cold-blooded murders. Moving cocaine brings him money, women, cars, and clothes but also makes him a target for federal investigations. With “ride until the casket drops” homies, Grams and Slugger, Spaz leads the BBF to the top and in a roundabout way to a cozy relationship with the Italian mob. Spaz’s motivation goes beyond dollars, and he demands respect from everyone…or they’re eliminated. VERDICT Quadeer’s writing is unpolished with an uneven timeline, but true fans of hardcore street lit will love this tale of outrageous violence, crude sex, and brutal payback. Shootouts feature hundreds of bullets and the action only pauses when the fellas take time to sex up their women. What’s not to like?

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