LJ Best Books 2017

It's time again for LJ’s annual Top Ten Best Books of the year, selected by our editors, as well as Top Five lists for genre fiction, nonfiction, poetry and literature, graphic novels, and SELF-e titles.   SEE WHO MADE THE LIST

Intrigue and Inspiration | African American Fiction (and More!)

forever an exMy background evaluating young adult books has me always noting a novel’s first sentence. A teenage audience has to be hooked early and fast. Most readers are familiar with famous first lines such as these three that grab readers’ attention:

You don’t know about me without you have read a book by the name of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer; but that ain’t no matter.—Mark Twain. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1885).

It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.—George Orwell. 1984 (1949).

Call me Ishmael.—Herman Melville. Moby-Dick (1851).

Although her writing may not reach the classic status of Twain, Orwell, or Melville, Victoria Christopher Murray pops a winning first sentence in her latest novel, Forever an Ex.

Whoever said that a kiss was just a kiss had never kissed Bobby Johnson.—Victoria Christopher Murray. Forever an Ex (2014).

I was also won over by Vanessa Miller’s gentle romance featuring an attorney coming to grips with his estranged father and falling in love with a family friend. Feels Like Heaven is my pick of the month.

Pick of the Month

OrangeReviewStar Couples on the Rocks | African American Fiction (and More)Miller, VanessaFeels Like Heaven. Whitaker House. Jun. 2014. 169p. ISBN   feelslikeheaven9781629110080. pap. $13.99. F
Solomon Harris, a Los Angeles attorney frustrated with a lying client, is summoned to Charlotte, NC, to meet with David Davidson, his biological father. Davidson, a megachurch preacher with a congregation 10,000 strong, is recovering from a heart attack and wants to make right with his illegitimate son. Solomon couldn’t care less about this preacher man who was absent while Solomon was growing up. Miller (Could This Be Love; His Love Walk) is adept at setting the stage for romance draped with strong Christian themes. When Solomon arrives at his father’s bedside, he’s immediately smitten with Davidson’s goddaughter, Dr. Larissa Wilkinson. Old timers would say Solomon and Larissa are sparkin’ but before their love can blossom, Solomon has to dig into who is extorting his father’s fortune. There’s a touch of mystery as lots of shady folks—including family members—would love to have their grubby hands on Davidson’s $20 million. Can love emerge from this betrayal? If it’s up to Larissa it will. She thinks Solomon is dreamy and gorgeous but also spiteful and mean, which are all traditional touchstones for a fine romance. VERDICT Miller’s slim volume is a charming tale with a fine mix of villains and heroes. Fans of inspirational romance will thrill at strong themes of forgiveness and love for family as this story is so sweet it should come with a cherry on top.  Recommended for all romance collections.

Bleu, Ava. Glorious Sunset. Urban Christian, dist. by Kensington. Aug. 2014. 288p. ISBN  9781601626707. pap. $14.95. F
King Taka Olufemi and his wife Zahara, who rule over the West African kingdom of  Jaha in the 17th century, are totally devoted to each other until Zahara is murdered in a brutal massacre. Her violent death launches an epic romance 400 years in the making as Taka asks the gods to be reunited with the love of his life. Flash forward to contemporary Columbus, OH, and interior decorator Violet Jackson is at the end of her rope. She’s asked to be maid of honor for bestie Brenda, who is to marry Violet’s ex-boyfriend. Besides that heffa move, Brenda has also “borrowed” Violet’s original design techniques and moved in on a million-dollar account. Somebody clue Violet in that Brenda is her frenemy. Nevertheless, Violet literally stumbles on a brooch with a fabulous gemstone. A quick rub and, ta da! Taka appears to grant Violet three wishes. He ecognizes Violet as the embodiment of Zahara, but the rules say he has to have her fall in love with him all over again. That shouldn’t be too hard as Violet loves gazing at Taka’s abs that are “firm enough to tap dance on.” VERDICT There’s a delightful touch to this romance hinting of old TV sitcoms such as I Dream of Jeannie or The Ghost and Mrs. Muir. Interaction between old-fashioned Taka and lean-in career girl Violet is quite charming and carries this inspirational story that also features nifty paranormal scenes.

Burt-Murray, Angela. Games Divas Play. Thomas & Mercer: Amazon. Jul. 2014. 402p. ISBN  9781477820162. pap. $14.95. F
Three women find themselves thrown together in Burt-Murray’s (The Vow; The Angry Black Woman’s Guide to Life) saga that delves into the NBA, groupies, and paparazzi media. I found myself liking one woman, admiring another, and hating the third. Twenty-nine-year-old Nia Bullock, who has “curves that would make Jessica Rabbit jealous”, is fired from her editor job with a Hollywood gossip magazine. Nia’s best friend, Vanessa King, is married to NBA superstar Marcus King, but we soon learn that Marcus is having a not-so-secret affair with bombshell groupie Laila James. Landing on her feet in New York City, Nia begins working for another gossip rag, DivaDish, but (gasp!) is assigned to get the dirt on friend Vanessa’s dissolving marriage. Stealing scenes with his spot-on wit is Nia’s loyal assistant, MJ, a flamboyant gay man obsessed with Beyoncé. Meanwhile Laila adds spice to the drama by sexting pictures and offering herself anytime, anywhere to Marcus. So soap opera! Anonymous death threats and a stalker attack plays into a nifty mystery. VERDICT An intricate mystery and crackerjack ending are almost swallowed up by Burt-Murray’s insistence on describing everyone’s designer clothes. This glut of unnecessary wordage detracts from the plot, forcing readers to be patient for the drama to kick in after many pages of set-up. Still, Nia is likeable, Vanessa seems to have little control over her marriage, and Laila is a great femme fatale. Fans of daytime soap operas will love it.

Cush, Jean Love. Endangered. Amistad: HarperCollins. Jul. 2014. 272p. ISBN  9780062316233. endangered$24.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062316363. F
Racism and unfair criminal justice rulings are focal points in Cush’s novel that could easily be pulled from news reports in any metropolitan city. Malik Williams, 15, is hanging out with his fellas when Philadelphia police converge and arrest him for homicide. His friend, Troy Barnes, has been killed, and Malik faces a murder one charge. The teenager may be tried as an adult and if found guilty he’ll be sentenced to life in prison. Malik’s mother, Janae, can’t  afford an attorney, but helps comes from The Center for the Protection of Human Rights (CPHR). Nationally known lawyer Roger Whitfield takes the case based on his argument that black teenagers are an endangered species. Roger and private lawyer Calvin Moore take the controversial argument to the national news outlets and Janae struggles with the media frenzy while trying to do the right thing for her son. VERDICT Debut author Cush, a former family law attorney,  bravely tackles the important social issue of racial injustice, and her novel features many powerful scenes as mothers agonize over their crushed hopes for their sons. Unfortunately, the excessive details of the courtroom trial sometimes slows her narrative to a crawl. Still, the topic is sobering, and Cush shows hope for disenfranchised youth. Although this is marketed as an adult title, feel free to purchase multiple copies and suggest it to inner city teachers as a class read.

Murray, Victoria Christopher. Forever an Ex. Touchstone. Jun.  2014.  379p. ISBN 9781476748856. pap. $15. F
Pastor Beverly Ford’s trio of prayer support members has many things to offer up to God in Murray’s (The Ex Files;Never Say Never) continuing tale of grown women facing serious relationship issues. Asia, Sheridan, and Kendall are all dealing with ex-lovers or husbands maneuvering their way back into their lives. Murray places her main focus on Asia, a trophy girlfriend who is certain she’ll pry former NBA star Bobby Johnson away from his wife. What this woman, who has roots stretching back to Compton,CA, doesn’t realize is how her reckless lifestyle has a direct effect on her daughter, 11-year-old Angel, who is Bobby Johnson’s biological daughter. A second story has Sheridan unwittingly damaging her marriage by helping a sorority sister come to terms with Sheridan’s ex-husband’s closet homosexuality. And finally, Kendall is unwilling to forgive her sister for sleeping with her husband, a scandalous act that happened six years ago and ended her marriage.  Throughout this lengthy work, there’s plenty of drama and everyone is emotionally damaged but must ultimately turn to prayer to heal relationships. VERDICT Murray spices up her storyline with plenty of juicy scandals but the sex is more PG-13 than X-rated. Readers seeking an inspirational tale with broad themes of trust, betrayal, and forgiveness will do well by choosing Murray’s latest effort.

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