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

A Little Respect & Romance | African American Fiction (and More)

For years Sister Souljah, the queen of urban fiction, has planted in our conscience that women should always be respected, a theme that she explores once again in her new novel.  Still there’s a place this month for Deborah Fletcher Mello’s old-fashioned romance with a serious twist that will lift readers’ emotions. It’s my pick of the month.


OrangeReviewStar Defending Your Castle | African American Fiction (And More!)Mello, Deborah Fletcher. Playing for Keeps. Dafina: Kensington. (Sultry Southern Nights). Nov. 2015. 332p. ISBN 9781617737787. pap. $7.99; ebk. ISBN 51V6uVLMMYL[1]9781617737794. F
Malcolm Cobb stays busy as part owner of The Playground, a hot nightclub in Raleigh, NC. He also is the CEO of a thriving architectural firm in Baltimore plus the single father of twin 13-year-old girls. Meeting the woman of his dreams is the last thing on his mind—until he flirts over coffee with Priscilla “Cilla” Jameson. Old timers would call this innocent behavior sparking and indeed there is a gentlemanly dating vibe in the novel’s syrupy beginning pages that may fit better with a 1950s setting. Soon enough Cilla comes around to Malcolm only to discover he’s a recovering alcoholic with the baggage of a drug-addicted ex-wife. In addition, Malcolm’s daughters guard a secret of a bad thing that happened during a visit with Malcolm’s ex-wife. VERDICT Don’t let the mushy opening fool you. Mello (Stallion Magic; Playing with Fire) is equally skilled at writing thrilling action scenes and romantic activities that almost—but not quite—cross over to erotica. A strong support group of family, friends, and coworkers help Malcolm and Cilla in times of trouble as their love blossoms. Likeable secondary characters you want to hang out with plus an uplifting message mark this divorced-man-meets-gorgeous-woman romance.

91Wtq2DIFfL[1]Brown, Tracy. White Lines III. All Falls Down. Griffin: St. Martin’s. Nov. 2015. 416p. ISBN 9781250042996. pap. $15.99; ebk. ISBN 9781466840980. F
Brown’s third series outing (after White Lines; Sunny) once again picks up with the furor swirling around friends Sunny Cruz and Jada Ford. Sunny is being held in a filthy Mexican prison for trying to smuggle cocaine across the border. Her worthless boyfriend had bluffed his way out of Mexico, leaving Sunny alone against the corrupt authorities. Meanwhile Jada struggles not to let jealousy upset her when her man Born shacks up with the mother of his son. The New York City Nobles crime family provides a third story line as female boss Gillian is vexed trying to figure out why the drug empire is falling apart. When Sunny makes it back to the States. she fights to stay off cocaine as her extended family sets up a harsh intervention. All the drama will continue until it’s time for slow singing and flower bringing. VERDICT New readers may find it difficult to keep track of Brown’s immense cast of characters, some reappearing from earlier volumes.There’s also a bit of an overreach as Brown tries to detail each character’s feelings as the action jumps from scene to scene. Despite these flaws, there are several powerful moments in this tale about shallow people who have it all becoming frantic when their lives fall apart.

Mays, Raqiyah. The Man Curse. Karen Hunter eBks: Gallery.. Nov. 2015. 272p. ebk. ISBN 9781476792941. $1.99. F
Meena Butler has spent most of her life falling for all sorts of men only to end up emotionally 51vZQTL03mL._SX320_BO1,204,203,200_[1]hurt. Likewise the other women in her family suffer from the man curse. When they gather for holidays, the trash talking is priceless, and one of Meena’s aunts scoffs at the notion of love, calling men “dogs, all of them.” Meena loses her virginity, swears off boys but keeps meeting Mr. Right Now. She breezes through lots of relationships including an office romance, hooking up with a married guy, and taking a turn at Match.com where she seeks love as long as he’s between 28 and 40 and lives within a 30-mile radius. Trusted friend Meredith plays the role of Meena’s muse at the ready with good ganja to ease her pain. Somehow, we hope Meena finds her happy ever after. VERDICT There’s a lot to like about this ebook original. Meena has a good heart but manages to make lousy decisions with men, a problem that will have many female readers nodding in agreement. Making her fiction debut with a novel that is equally raw, profane, and touching, Mays is a promising author to watch.

51+mZAUuPsL._SX328_BO1,204,203,200_[1]Sister Souljah. A Moment of Silence. Midnight III. Emily Bestler: Atria. Nov. 2015. 528p. ISBN 9781476765983. $27.99; ebk. ISBN 9781476766003. F
Sister Souljah (The Coldest Winter Ever; Midnight and the Meaning of Love) continues her in-depth character examination of Midnight, the mysterious enforcer for drug kingpin Ricky Santiaga and the unrequited love of Ricky’s wild daughter, Winter. In this lengthy tale set in 1986 and before Midnight crosses paths with Winter there are sudden shifts in time and place designed to reveal Midnight’s emotional core. Midnight prefers to remain silent in all situations but is an honorable and devout Muslim. Although only 17, he has married two women and is a loving husband to both of them. Readers may be taken back by Midnight’s precocious maturity especially when he’s speaking about his life philosophy. “How each man responds to evil options and suggestions is the only way for you to determine if he is a good man. He may be good. But no man is innocent.” VERDICT Undoubtedly Midnight is one of the more intriguing characters found in urban fiction. Yet too often the author sacrifices her plot by digressions into extensive messages/editorials about Muslim beliefs, how women should always be respected, and the ignorance of police. The slow-developing story finally accelerates when Midnight meets Ricky Santiaga and then is sent to Rikers prison. Sister Souljah’s many fans will want this. Stock up accordingly.

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