a Blog Blast from the Past

originally published on December 14, 2012

Prior to this challenge, I had read only a handful of romances starring African American characters. My favorite of those books wasn’t even technically a romance – What Looks Like Crazy On An Ordinary Day by Pearl Cleage is actually a woman’s fiction book and an Oprah’s Book Club selection. So before sitting down to do this column I wanted to be sure and get some serious reading done. Here are the results.

My first read was Heart to Heart by Kayla Perrin. I absolutely loved it. Deana Hart was a singing sensation with a bestselling album to her name. Personal issues have caused a slide in her career and put a damper on her creativity. Hoping to find healing, Deana heads home to Cleveland. Circumstances lead her to Eric Bell, the brother of an old flame. Eric was always a friend, always there for Deana when she needed him and now she realizes that the sexy high school principal would be happy to be more. Given her history, she wonders if she can take a chance at love. And what about her future? Is she ready to give up her dreams of stardom and settle down in Cleveland?

Deana is the best written “star” I have ever seen in a romance novel. The author captured beautifully that it is not just having one success as a singer that makes for a lifetime career. She showcased how hard it was to stay on top but also how fulfilling it can be to fall down a few notches. Deana figures out what she can do with her talent when she isn’t selling out stadiums and it was great to see her come to some realizations about herself and about real life. It was also super to see the romance between two level-headed, caring adults. Eric is a terrific hero – hardworking, devoted to the kids in his life, loving to the people around him. One of the best series books I had read in a long time.

Angel’s Landing by Rochelle Alers was my second book for the challenge. While I didn’t love it quite as much as I did Heart to Heart, I liked it enough to purchase additional books by Ms. Alers.

Looking for a book that had some of the same urban flavor as What Looks Like Crazy On An Ordinary Day led me to Everybody in the Church Ain’t Saved by Patti Trafton. This unique inspirational novel takes a hard look at Christianity in a modern urban setting. At the start of the novel, we meet girlfriends Lorene and Patrice. Patrice is a good time girl who sleeps around, parties and can’t keep a steady job. Lorene is in many ways her opposite; she has an excellent job and is a virgin who is waiting for the right man. The two are drawn together by their love of singing and desire to be in a church choir. Both Lorene and Patrice learn lessons about God and love throughout this novel. It was atypical in that there is a lot of sex, language, thievery, and other basic “sinning” in it, no-no’s in many inspirational fiction lines. I found the book to be a fascinating look at real life Christianity. It took a hard look at what happens when the doors are closed and we think no one sees us. The title explains a lot about what the book goes over – not everyone in their choir is saved but as one character put it, exactly how will anyone be saved if saved people only hang out with each other? The romance between Lorene and Keith is sweet and romantic. The romance between Patrice and Glen is hot and turbulent. Both show us how love can help us grow and become better people. I enjoyed the book and was glad to read it.

Because I absolutely adore romantic suspense I didn’t feel my challenge would be complete without reading an RS book. I choose Adrianne Byrd’s Deadly Double. William Hayes and Josephine Ferrell fell in love in Paris. Real life shattered their dreams of romance. Many years later, they meet again in less than ideal circumstances. He is now Dr. Hayes and works at an exclusive mental hospital. She is now a patient at that hospital, confused as to why everyone insists she is Michelle. He risks everything to help her find a solution to this problem. But will they wind up together at the altar – or in an unmarked grave? The start of this novel is riveting, making the book almost impossible to put down. However, once we figure out who the villain is and what is happening, the book becomes a bit slower going as we wait for Josie and William to catch on. Josie also has a TSTL moment which nearly gets them killed and had me wanting to shake her. Overall the book wound up a C+ read for me; better than average but not brilliant.

Since Gwynne Forster appeared to be a big name in Arabesque I wanted to be sure to read one of her books. I chose Against All Odds about corporate recruiter Melissa Grant. When Adam Roundtree calls her looking for help in finding people to fill several positions at his firm, Melissa is at first hesitant to take the job. The Roundtrees have been in a feud with her family for generations. Determined to show Adam that she can set aside personal feelings and do the job with professional flair, she takes him on as a client. But as she and Adam spend time together, they both get more than they bargained for.

This could have been typical romance fare, with Adam being a bit of an alpha jerk and Melissa being a typical heroine doormat but a few things set the novel above the pack. Melissa isn’t a doormat. She is sweet but she knows when to draw a line on being taken advantage of. The author really showcased both of their jobs, giving us enough detail to make it interesting but not so much to make it a lecture. I appreciated that departure from people who have high powered jobs they never work at. The book also strayed from tradition in its explanation of Melissa’s autocratic father. At the end of the tale we understand him and what contributed to his becoming the difficult person he was. I was glad to see the changes in his relationship with his children that occurred at the end of the book.

Champagne Kisses by Zuri Day and Taste for Temptation by Phyllis Bourne were the final two books I read specifically for this challenge. Both are Kimani novels. Taste for Temptation highlighted everything that can go right in a series novel – great characters, solid plot, interesting premise. Champagne Kisses is a more traditional Harlequin with its rich Alpha hero and secretary heroine. Those novels tend not to be my cuppa but I found this one to be sweet.

I was fortunate in that the majority of books I choose to read were above average. Which made me wonder why I hadn’t discovered these terrific authors before? The biggest impediment to my reading the books in the past was distribution. No one in my area carries them on the shelf. Since I normally try new authors based on either recommendations or browsing, this cut out one venue of discovery. I can’t say I have seen a lot of recommendations for romances with African-American characters online, so there went my second avenue of discovery. In future I will have to actively shop Amazon and Harlequin specifically for these types of romances. I’m glad I have that option available to me but I do feel disconcerted that more isn’t being done to market these books to the general public.

– Maggie Boyd