No Shortage of Drama | African American Fiction (and More)

There’s plenty of drama and tension in this column’s selections, including an interesting take on the struggle for civil rights, a police procedural to solve multiple deaths, and a dysfunctional family circling their wagons to protect their own. Terry McMillan rises up with her novel of a middle-aged woman juggling many personal problems while pondering whatever happened to those guys she once loved. The author’s I Almost Forgot About You is my pick of the month.

Pick of the Month

51gKceyXbJL[1]OrangeReviewStar Defending Your Castle | African American Fiction (And More!)McMillan, Terry. I Almost Forgot About You. Crown. Jun. 2016. 368p. ISBN 9781101902578. $27; ebk. ISBN 9781101902585. F
Fiftyish Georgia Louise Young lives alone in San Francisco, has two ex-husbands who fathered Georgia’s two now adult daughters, and wonders if anyone would care if she didn’t shave her legs. Depressed and lonely, she watches television, pining away for sexy actors. “I hate to admit it, but if I had the energy, I’d kill to have sex with the first one who walked into my bedroom tonight.” Recalling the five men she had once loved, Georgia finds her former lovers with the help of Facebook but ends up disappointed in their 30-years-later versions. Discouraged, she reigns in her sexuality and comes across as more of a friend with whom you could chat about men, love, caring for elderly parents, worrying about grown children (and their mistakes) while wondering if she’s still sexy. VERDICT Making her Crown debut, McMillan (Waiting To Exhale; How Stella Got Her Groove Back; Getting to Happy) has written an engaging novel with an appealing cast of women who dish about guys while pushing Georgia to end her self-imposed celibacy. Georgia’s angst about entering the middle-aged dating scene will have readers nodding and muttering “Uh huh, I know that’s right.” This near-perfect choice for women’s book club discussions will prompt arguments of what makes a guy too good to be true. Stock up with multiple copies. [See Prepub Alert, 1/4/16.]

51ZF8TsqU+L[1]Ellis, Shelly. Bed of Lies: A Chesterton Scandal Novel. Dafina: Kensington. May 2016. 298p. ISBN 9781617734038. pap. $9.95; ebk. ISBN 9781617734045. F
This companion novel to Best Kept Secrets revisits the Murdoch family of Chesterton, VA. Evan Murdoch, CEO of Murdoch Conglomerate, has worked things out with fiancée Leila, and the couple eagerly anticipates a happy marriage in a blended family with Leila’s daughter, Izzy. But their joy is marred when Evan’s brother, Terrance, is almost killed in a car accident that leaves him blinded in one eye and his leg shattered. Baby sister, Paulette, isn’t immune to family drama; hoping to repair her marriage after an affair, she struggles to cover up her pregnancy. She can’t figure out who’s the father. Worse yet, half brother Dante Turner, who is a lawyer, decides to get a piece of the Murdoch fortune by suing Terrence. And then there’s Chesterton Times reporter C.J. Aston, who wants to air the Marvelous Murdochs’ dirty laundry in an exposé, but her impartial judgement becomes a bit murky. Whew, the drama just won’t stop! Talk about stress! VERDICT Lusty bedroom scenes, blackmail, jealousy, revenge, rage, and murder keep the pages turning easily. Soap opera fans will love this solid work by an author who continues to shine.

51ry6V7JALL[1]Johnson, Carrie H. Hot Flash. Dafina: Kensington. Jun. 2016. 265p. ISBN 9781496703996. pap. $15; ebk. ISBN 9781496704009. F
Johnson’s first novel is a mix of thriller and police procedural that takes readers to the mean streets of North Philly. Muriel Mabley, 49 years old and suffering hot flashes, wonders if she’s too old for her job as a firearms forensic expert. She has little time to ponder that problem when all hell breaks loose. Her sister disappears, her partner becomes a rogue cop, her lover Calvin is seriously injured in a car wreck, and intruders break into her home. Plus, there are a couple of apparently unsolvable murders. It seems everyone in Muriel’s life has a longtime connection to Black Mafia kingpin Jesse Boone, who now wants a quick fix of $2 million. Muriel feels she can’t trust anyone except her BFF Dulcey who always has Muriel’s back and often steals the scene with priceless trash talk. VERDICT There are plenty of thrills here for suspense junkies, but the overcomplicated plot and accompanying twists may turn off some readers. Scenes zip from one crime to another with Muriel bursting into the picture without any logistical problems. What? There are no construction or traffic snarls in Philadelphia? Still, this is a solid effort by a new author. The next Muriel Mabley adventure is due out in the summer of 2017.
41g0P4dFCuL[1]Nicholas, Denise. Freshwater Road. Bolden: Agate. Apr. 2016. 346p. ISBN 9781572841956. pap. $15; ebk. ISBN 9781572847811. F
This reissue of actress Nicholas’s (Room 222; In the Heat of the Night) debut novel, first published in 2005, is a coming-of-age tale set during the Freedom Summer of 1964. College student Celeste Tyree takes a 24-hour train journey from Ann Arbor, MI, to Jackson, MS, to help register African Americans to vote in the small town of Pineyville. She soon learns how dangerous a task this is when shortly after her arrival three volunteers (Michael Schwerner, James Chaney, and Andrew Goodman) go missing. Celeste is alarmed by Whites Only signs and is further vexed when handed a kerosene lamp to illuminate the path to an outhouse. Meanwhile, in Detroit, Shuck, her father and a numbers man, realizes the middle-class jobs for blacks are beginning to fade. VERDICT Nicholas writes with historical accuracy about the physical and emotional cost of being an African American in 1964, when a minor misstep could lead to an arrest or a beating. Celeste, a young woman unsure of her future, transforms into a strong activist who puts aside her personal issues and sacrifices herself for others. This is a fine example of African American literary fiction that should appear on advanced high school reading lists. A great novel to feature during February, Black History Month.

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