Love Letters
by Rochelle Alers, Donna Hill, and Janice Sims; contemporary (2000, 1997 reissue)
Arabesque, $5.99, ISBN 1-58314-078-6

"Please accept Arabesque's love letter to you..." it says in this book on the second page. How nice - Arabesque sends me a love letter and charges me $5.99 for it. I won't say what the first thought that springs into my head is. But really, do we need all this fake "publisher mushy love" stuff in books? All Arabesque wants is my money, so who are they trying to fool? It's as insulting as those rushed Christmas cash-in hardcovers that are "your favorite author's special Christmas gift to you" - just pay $20 for this gift, suckers. (Johanna Lindsey, Stephanie Laurens, I'm looking at you two.)

Anyway, rant over.

Love Letters is a pretty good read. All three stories are by top Arabesque authors, and all three are very readable, but they are all flawed in some ways too, some more so than the others.

Rochelle Alers' Hearts Of Gold. I've read a few of this author's latest books, and I must say that while she can write, her monotonous one-track plots and characters (all same regardless of novella or full length novels) are starting to make my eyes glaze over. This one is no different from a typical Alers offering: super beautiful, super stylish, super talented, super sipreme 35-year old Kenyon Bryant is a - how do you call it? - make-over specialist, I think. When the story starts, she is assigned to jobs like polishing new hip-hop/R&B groups (ie make sure these young twits don't say 'ho' and 'mudderf***as' in public). She also has lots of time wearing slinky gowns and attending art exhibitions. At one, she meets an old flame that she almost married: Shumba Naaman.

Shumba was a very succesful millionaire-ish Wall Street broker named Francis Humphries until he decides to go all "Follow My Roots" and "Mama Afrika". He starts growing dreadlocks, gives up his job, and becomes a sculptor. But somehow this man isn't bohemian enough to give away his money or get a marijuana addiction, so he's still rich enough to mingle and live the life exotic. Fake, I tell you. All bohemians must get a bisexual lifestyle and drug habit, y'know!

Anyway. They meet, they fall all over again, that's it. And like all of this author's novels, the heroine will say no and no and no and no to commitment, all the way to the very end. No is okay, but no because of some flimsy reason is not okay. Rochelle Alers' Lifestyles Of The Rich And Famous Judith Krantz/Terry McMillan hybrid style (minus McMillan's gritty cynicism) is fast wearing thin where I am concerned. Rich, perfect, super beautiful people postponing the inevitable just to prolong the story come off as spoiled and childish. I'm bored. Can someone get a drinking problem to liven the party? There's so much 'sophisticated rich people speak' I can take without falling asleep out of boredom.

Donna Hill's Masquerade is made into a BET TV movie, hence this reissue to cash-in on the occasion (love letter to me, my bum). The heroine Joi Holliday has a really Electra-fying "DaddyNMe4evaNeva!!! My Mum Is A Biatch!!!" complex that I really worry for her, but otherwise, this novella is the best of the bunch. Joi is actually this super-beautiful babe but her father, whom she loves the mostest foreva and eva and eva and eva, has told her that her mother, whom she is a dead ringer for, is a ho-bitch-slut-harlot-Jezebel-Mai-Messalina-Magdalene-prostitute female dog who uses her looks to skank herself to pieces. Hence, Joi, who loves her daddy foreva and eva (et cetera) hides her beauty in dowdy clothes and edits romance novels to "express" herself. However, hunk Marcus Speller, who isn't above admitting that he loves romance novels (keeper!), sees through her dowdy exterior. But they are both hesitant.

You see, both went online and met this wonderful, amazing, most sensitive man/woman in some online personals site. So now what? Online date or real life date?

Of course, the online and real life date is the same. Marcus and Joi met online and sparked without each other knowing it's the other he/she is cyberflirting with. Meanwhile, the mommy-hating Daddy gets a new girlfriend too - daddies get away with a lot of smelly stuff in Electra-fying romance novels, doncha know. Marcus and Joi finally resolve this online/real life thing, and they live happily ever after.

Marcus and Joi have chemistry, and they do click. Masquerade is familiar and predictable, and Joi can be this clueless brickhead who hasn't outgrown her childhood "I wanna marry my Daddy" Freudian neuroses, but the fact that Marcus and Joi have chemistry (I don't want to go into Joi and Daddy's chemistry) elevates this romance above the other two.

Janice Sims closes this anthology with To Love Again. Reading this novella, I feel as if I have stumbled into a party where everyone knows everyone else except me. The main story is about Alana Calloway who is still mourning her late husband whom she loves, and she finds love again in Nicholas, or Nico, her husband's best friend and a man who has carried this secret love for her for so long. Someone is stalking her too, Alana feels, when she starts receiving notes that seem eeriely to be written by her late husband.

I like how Alana loves her late husband and isn't afraid to love another man again. But Alana and Nico fall and consummate their love so fast, the author adds in secondary characters and their little side stories to keep things going. Thing is, I scratch my head and wonder, "Who are these people?" before realizing, hey, I recognize this Toni lady. And isn't that one... But it's still hard to keep track on who's who, and eventually I leave this party feeling lost. To Love Again doesn't seem to have a focus. A pity, as Alana and Nico have a nice love story to tell.

Love Letters is a decent anthology, and all three stories are readable in some way or the other. It could use some polish here and there, but still, for a lazy afternoon read, I can do worse, I guess.

Rating: 76

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