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

Attention-Grabbing Stories | African American Fiction (and More!)

Overworked plot devices can destroy readers’ enthusiasm, so it’s such a thrill to discover fresh out-of-the-ordinary action in this month’s selections. Examples cover a wide spectrum of story lines that are definite attention-grabbers.

  • Brooklyn B-Girl Fight Club: In a dingy warehouse women fight three rounds, two minutes each. Rules: Taped hands but no gloves. Mouth guards. Headgear. No biting. No spitting. Three hundred dollars to the winner; losers receive $50 each.
  • Cleaners: An all-woman crew cleans up the gory aftermath of violent crime scenes—including removing bodies—but not for the police. Instead their invoice is paid by criminal gangs.
  • Heroin Mules: Women smuggle heroin into the United States inside their breast implants. Each breast is estimated to be worth a quarter of a million dollars.
  • Prediction: A woman discovers she now has psychic powers that allow her to see into others’ past and also their future by simply touching hands.

Readers’ Advisory Reminder

Morris, Vanessa Irvin. The Readers’ Advisory Guide to Street Literature. ALA Editions. 2011. ISBN 9780838911105. $48; ebk. ISBN 9780838993620. Professional Reading
Street lit authors have been relentless is grabbing a toehold in the literary marketplace. For librarians challenged to create an urban fiction collection but have no idea where to start, it’s worth a look to revisit former LJ columnist Morris’s guide. This fine work provides commentary on the appeal of urban fiction, its background and origin, and how to promote an urban fiction collection. Plus Morris offers lists of titles ranging from pioneering classics to the hottest contemporary authors.

pick of the month

OrangeReviewStar Intrigue and Inspiration | African American Fiction (and More!)George, Nelson. The Lost Treasures of R&B: A D Hunter Mystery. Akashic. Feb. 2015. 187p. ISBN 9781617753411. $24.95; pap. ISBN 9781617753169. $15.95. LostTreasuresofRB-509x800
In his third outing (after The Plot Against Hip Hop) D Hunter, a bodyguard, student of musical history, owner of a security company, and HIV positive, drifts through Brooklyn’s Brownsville section. The noble man is feeling his age, finding it difficult to accept young gangbangers wearing droppy jeans and trendy hipsters showing little respect for the changed neighborhood’s past. An exchange of stolen guns goes wrong and D hustles his client, rapper Asya Roc, out of the chaos. Later D ponders who set him up and why did they want the guns so badly? A secondary mystery has our protagonist contracted to locate a legendary rare 45 vinyl record of a duet sung by Otis Redding and Diana Ross in the late 1960s. No spoilers here, but once D uncovers the truth, all hell breaks loose. VERDICT Older readers recalling the golden years of Motown and Hitsville USA will nod in agreement when George (The Hippest Trip in America: Soul Train and the Evolution of Culture and Style) demonstrates his extensive knowledge and admiration of old-school music icons such as Marvin Gaye, Booker T and the MGs, Tammi Terrell, Sam and Dave, and Steve Cropper. Still, this is a fine mystery and D Hunter is as world weary, yet steadfast, as Philip Marlowe, Spenser, Dave Robicheaux, or Easy Rawlins. A definite yes to purchase for both mystery and African American collections.

Gutta Mamis. Strebor: Atria. (Strebor on the Streetz). Aug. 2014. 229p. ed. by N’tyse. ISBN 9781593095246. pap. $15; ebk. ISBN 9781476744506. guttamamis
Edited by N’tyse (Twisted Vows of Seduction; My Secrets Your Lies), this high-octane street lit compilation features the ladies aggressively taking control on the streets and in the bedroom. The four novellas penned by N’tyse and up-and-coming authors Kai, C.J. Hudson, and Brandie Davis have women running game from Dallas and Cleveland to Columbia, SC. These bold writers hold nothing back. Their streetwise protagonists aren’t afraid to put slugs into some rival’s dome, or torture a traitor with a blowtorch. Kai’s “Twisted Loyalty” stars an all-woman team of “cleaners” who sanitize crime scenes (including corpse removal) for a starting rate of $20,000.  C.J. Hudson’s “Three the Hard Way” has a trio of GMB (Get Money Bitches) clubbing, sexing. and robbing men with a splash of betrayal. In Brandie Davis’s “The Face of Death,” plastic surgery is the key to moving heroin into the country with Columbian woman muling the drug inside fake breasts. Topping off the collection is “Chasers,” N’tse’s intricate story of a pair of women roiling in the aftermath of a stickup gone bad when they murder their mark. VERDICT Urban fiction readers will rejoice at the tight writing, authentic street slang, and bold push-the-envelope-sensational stories. Even though these ladies are nasty, this reviewer is thinking female readers will secretly cheer for these hardened women who are equally ruthless as street literature’s hard-core male characters.

Hobbs, Allison. Misty. Strebor: Atria. (Zane Presents, Double Dippin’, Bk. 5). Jul. 2014. 314p. ISBN 9781593094690. pap. $15; ebk. ISBN 9781451697032. F
Hobbs wraps up her “Double Dippin’” series (Lipstick Hustla; Brick) with Misty Delagardo confined to a Philadelphia hospital bed after an assailant crushed her face with a tire iron and left her paralyzed. But all is not doom and gloom when Misty discovers her new talent—psychic ability. When Misty is touched by her nurses, images of their their past and future flash through her mind. Misty, quick for a dollar, sets up an online site advertising her clairvoyant gift and waits for cash to roll in. Standing in the wings is Brick, a player with a past, who now feels maybe he can love Misty if she gives up her conniving ways. A parallel story line has Anya hooking up with Sergio, a Dominican drug dealer. How Misty, Anya, and Brick are connected is loosely filled in with backstory revealing grimy dealings that explode in Hobbs’s finale. VERDICT Series fans will relish how the lives of Anya, Brick, and Misty become tangled in a hot mess. On the other hand, newbies may be bewildered with the sudden plot leaps that stem from events earlier in the series. Again, the Zane Presents tag may stir interest.

Webster, B. Swangin. Let Me Just Say This. Intrigue. Aug. 2014. 228p. ISBN 9780989369695. pap. $14.95. F
Criminal violence has long been a cornerstone for urban fiction, but in her latest work Webster (And Again…Let Me Say This) delves into extreme spousal abuse that’s every bit horrific as drug executions. Kevin and Cheryl Goldman have gathered wealth and luxury in their 17 years of marriage, but the relationship is more than a little bit rocky. Jealous and deceitful Kevin is also a cheater and uses his fists to bring Cheryl to his will. Their children, Donnell and Kayla, hear the late-night beatings but are powerless to stop their violent father. The abuses escalate to more than just bruises, and Cheryl cautiously begins to seek help but still believes her marriage is redeemable. Supportive friends try to intervene but Cheryl consistently makes excuses for Kevin’s attacks. The only way out seems to be divorce or death when Kevin tells Cheryl he will “kill her” if she tries to leave. VERDICT Webster describes Cheryl’s beatings in gruesome detail, which adds a ring of authenticity to this tale. However, the many knockdown fights become repetitive without resolution, which perhaps is the author’s message to female readers who will throw serious hate on Kevin. A satisfying choice for libraries with outreach connections to female group shelters.

Young-Robinson, Christine. We Didn’t See It Coming. Strebor: Atria. (Zane Presents). Sept. 2014. 300p. ISBN 9781593095666. pap. $15; ebk. ISBN ISBN 9781476757995. F  robinson
Rupert Houston, one of the wealthiest men in South Carolina, has women problems. His three daughters, Milandra, Noelle, and Kenley, are headstrong Southern girls who relish having Daddy taking care of their needs. Trouble comes from Aniyah Sanchez claiming to be an illegitimate daughter born to Rupert’s Mexican maid. Stepping in to restore order is Rupert’s lawyer, Baron Chavis, who is carrying on an affair with middle daughter Noelle. When Rupert and his wife die suddenly, a battle over the estate  launches between the three sisters and the conniving Aniyah. Rough on the edges and totally streetwise, Aniyah knows how to rock a wet bikini and entices Baron into sexual shenanigans. Waiting in the wings are ordinary guys who have their hearts set on marrying the three Houston sisters. Can all this mess wrap up in a happy ending? VERDICT First-time author Young-Robinson’s plot has potential, but it is hampered by clunky, stilted dialog. When Aniyah tries smearing the family, one sister declares, “We won’t read nor watch any television to hear the vicious lies.” Even though she plays the villain, Aniyah turns out to be the most realistic, fully developed character, not cutouts like the Houston sisters. Purchase only where the Zane Presents label has strong patron recognition.


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