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Strange lives and loves left behind: a season for fictional debuts and some rather unusual story lines.

Gotham Diaries by Tonya Lewis Lee and Crystal McCrary Anthony Hyperion Publishing, July 2004 $23.95, ISBN 1-401-30119-3

Lee (coauthor of children's book Please, Baby Please, Simon & Schuster, 2002), and Anthony (coauthor of Homecourt Advantage, Avon, 1998) present an entertaining, tongue-in-cheek look at the glittering, superficial, lonely world of a rich and famous segment of New York black society, where brand names, location, being seen by the press and the right people, money and power are everything. It's a world where friendship, loyalty and truth take a back seat.

The three principal characters are interconnected. Tandy, worldly, self centered, conniving, finds herself in desperate financial straits after her husband dies. Manny, the social climbing, gay real estate broker, schemes to be accepted into "uppper" society. Lauren, the naive young wife of a middle-aged billionaire, is betrayed by those closest to her. Several of the book's characters are stereotypes and some of the situations cliche but readers will be irresistibly drawn into the lives, motivations and workings of the characters and will keep reading to find out what becomes of these people.

--Reviewed by Mary N. Oluonye Mary N. Oluonye is a writer in Cleveland, Ohio. She is a library associate at the Shaker Heights Public Library.

When Did You Stop Loving Me by Veronica Chambers Doubleday, June 2004 $21.95, ISBN 0-385-50900-6

In her debut novel, Chambers, a noted journalist and nonfiction author, explores what call happen when a woman chooses to leave her husband--and child--behind.

The year is 1979, and 11-year-old Angela Davis Brown lives with her beautiful, statuesque mother, Melanie, and magician father, Teddo, in the Bronx. "While her parents love each other, money--or the lack of it--is a constant source of conflict. Melanie cleans office buildings hut dreams of a better life that Teddo, an idealistic and impractical dreamer, cannot provide. One morning, Angela wakes up in find that her mother is not there. This is where Chambers begins her story.

For the most part, Chambers does a line job of capturing the child's confusion and yearning. Angela's voice, however, is far too sophisticated for someone her age, and most often, the narrator appears to be an adult recounting past events, rather than a child who is sharing her experiences in the present.

The story is well crafted, but it leaves readers wanting more, down to the bittersweet, and slightly flat, ending. Throughout, the narrator seems curiously detached, and the reader never truly gets into the character's inner lives. This is not to say that Chambers's characters are one dimensional; on the contrary, they are so interesting that you would like to know them better.

--Reviewed by Denise Simon Denise Simon currently works for the Hearst Corporation and is a mentor in a writing group for teenage girls.

The Full Matilda by David Haynes Harlem Moon/Broadway Books, May 2004 $14.00, ISBN 0-767-91569-0

Moving in fits and starts like rush-hour traffic, the story unfolds over several decades, told by protagonist Matilda Housewright, her brother, nephews and great-nephew. The constant changes in voice can occasionally throw the reader in reverse to see who is controlling the story.

Matilda is a prim, proper woman descended from a line of African American household workers in Washington, D.C., who manages to maintain a formal way of life as the world changes around her.

After the death of her father, Matilda's brother Martin looks out for her. With his sister's help, at least initially, Martin launches a successful catering business that ensures the family's financial security.

Matilda, who early on threatens to be a real pistol of a character, becomes the stereotypical, eccentric spinster auntie who teaches her charges useful life lessons in between subjecting them to her annoying habits and quirky behavior. Although she gets in the last word in the book, she simply sputters out at the end.

--Reviewed by Jackie Jones Jackie Jones is a senior lecturer in journalism at Penn State University.

Laelia by Ruth-Miriam Garner Atria Books, January 2004 $23.00, ISBN 0-743-46630-6

In this debut novel, three sisters take control of their destinies by freeing themselves from their ailing husbands, empowering the women in their small, religious community and seeking love on their own terms.

Garnett's writing style and subject matter are unconventional, and she chooses a heroine whose sense of morality is largely self-determined. Garnett is clearly a capable writer, and despite the issues with characterization, the book is not without its strengths: The writer takes a fresh approach to an old problem.

--Reviewed by Denise Simon

Snakepit by Moses Isegawa Knopf, March 2004 $24.00, ISBN 0-375-41454-1

This is an unsettling, fictionalized account of life in Uganda during the dictatorship of Idi Amin based on actual events.

Bat Katanga, a Ugandan native, returns to his homeland in the 1970s after graduating with an advanced math degree from Cambridge University. The exacting descriptions in the book often distract from the tale of Bat's personal conflicts, and most of the novel reads like a nonfiction account of atrocities during Amin's rule.

--Reviewed by Melissa Ewey Johnson Melissa Ewey Johnson is a writer in New York City.

Blinking Red Light by Mister Mann Frisby Riverhead Freestyle, May 2004 $13.00, ISBN 1-594-48019-2

The first novel by a former Philadelphia Daily News reporter (whose name is indeed Mister) was self-published in 2001, but it is now being rereleased by Riverhead Books. It is a classic tale of sex, money, greed and murder played out in Philadelphia and on the back-roads of North Carolina.

The story starts on the streets of south Philadelphia when the protagonist, whose name is not given, and his cousin find their boss murdered. Frisby does a first-rate job of creating a human side to the main character. His humor and language will delight readers.

--Reviewed by Ira Porter Ira Porter is a reporter for The Philadelphia Inquirer.

The Team by Dawson Perkins Agate Publishing, June 2004 $23.95, ISBN 0-972-45627-9

In this novel, the reader journeys through the life of Gwendolyn Fagan, a young accountant in Atlanta who re-encounters someone from her past whom she would rather forget.

Although the author could have fleshed out parts of the story a bit more, The Team is a fascinating debut. The narration is colorful smart and realistic.

--Reviewed by Joycelyn A. Wilson Joycelyn A. Wilson, a writer in Atlanta, is completing her doctoral degree at the University of Georgia
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Title Annotation:Gotham Diaries, When Did You Stop Loving Me, The Full Matilda, Laelia, Snakepit, Blinking Red Light, The Team
Author:Wilson, Joycelyn A.
Publication:Black Issues Book Review
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jul 1, 2004
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