Wendy: If there is one thing the holiday season guarantees, it is the frenzied speculation over what was hot and was not from the previous months, what can’t be missed entering the new year and what, absolutely, should not be repeated. This is true in movies, music, fashion, and, naturally, books. In the case of Kiss The Year Goodbye, a new anthology featuring novellas by four authors, the question might not be hot or not, but: What could have been?
Baby-mama-drama takes on a whole new meaning in Tu-Shonda L. Whitaker’s Whatever it Takes when thirty-six year old India Parker realizes her good friend’s boy D.J. has grown into a fine young man. Devin, as he would prefer to be called, doesn’t make any secret of his interest in India and pursues her despite their thirteen year age difference and India’s hollow protests. India is an interesting character to follow; her constant—yet empty—threats of physical violence towards her friends are amusing, while her own self characterization as old might make readers want to issue some threats of their own. Ultimately, the physical heat generated between India and Devin is well documented and understandable, but the emotional intimacy that springs between them is not.
Brenda L. Thomas’ Every New Year takes a well-worn fiction construct, amnesia, and adds a surprise to it: infidelity. Far away from the fiancé who’s waiting for her in Hawaii and the upscale neighborhood her urology practice calls home, Dr. Cynthia Lampley is caught in the crossfire of Philadelphia’s inner city warfare and then finds herself in a run-down hospital with no idea who she is. But, she knows the doctor treating her, Alexander Strohmile, is consuming her thoughts. Cynthia remembers who she is and that she has a fiancé just in time to push the information aside and make love to Dr. Strohmile on New Year’s Eve. Every New Year is unevenly paced with too much time given to Cynthia’s pre-accident urology practice—including the joy she derives from working with penises all day—and not enough time to build a solid foundation for the emotional attachment Cynthia too quickly feels for Dr. Strohmile and the resulting life altering decisions she makes. The cliché of amnesia further burdens the story – short of soap operas, how often does one encounter amnesia in day to day life? – and a degree of unbelievability to a story that doesn’t need any further hindrances.
The most stylistically rendered of the quartet is Dangerously in Love by Crystal Lacey Winslow. Told in first person narration through both the female protagonist, Jovie, and the male protagonist, London, Dangerously in Love spins a tale of love, betrayal, and insanity through the use of flashbacks and a flashward. Jovie and London briefly meet one New Year’s Eve and are reunited nearly a year later. Theirs is not a love story to root for. Nor is it intended as such. Jovie is damaged in such a way that her stability is constantly in question and London has monogamy issues. The inevitable train wreck of their relationship is something that can never be saved. Jovie’s quirky personality nuances escalate into a pattern of madness which drags the reader toward a conclusion that fails in its attempt at a twist. The difficulty in making a twist ending sustainable is that it can’t feel like a trick – the sentient reader should be able to piece the clues together themselves without an expositional info-dump as resolution (it’s not quite like those “And I would have gotten away with it except for those meddling kids!” soliloquies, but it’s close) – and in that regard Winslow’s story fails.
Daaimah S. Poole’s My Boo follows the ups and downs between long distance lovers Gina and her boo Chris. A year into their relationship, Gina is completely over not having her man around as much as she’d like him to be. With Chris in the D.C. area and Gina in Philly, the distance and Chris’ busy work schedule seem to conspire to keep the pair apart. Angry, hurt and frustrated, Gina enters into a relationship with Khalil—a neighborhood cutie—and is thrilled with the time and attention he lavishes on her. But, unlike Chris, Gina isn’t the only woman on Khalil’s mind. The voice here is young and true even if Gina’s wandering eye makes for a less than sympathetic character.
As a group the stories almost read like romance. Almost. They are filled with girls meeting boys, then loosing those boys and in a couple of cases winning them back. There are even happy endings. But don’t be fooled. Kiss the Year Goodbye is appropriately labeled and shelved as fiction. The stories in this collection venture into territory never seen in mainstream romance including a mentally ill protagonist, infidelity (present, not long buried in the past, and perpetrated by women) and a frankness and honestly about sex that lacks the false coyness even the most hardcore erotic romances seem to cling to.
Kiss the Year Goodbye sizzles with sexuality but offers little else. The anthology, while spirited, never rises to a memorable level due in large part to a uniform amount of expository dialogue in each story, a fixation with literally opening and closing every door in a scene by scene basis, and characters more notable for their flatness than their roundness. The stories themselves offer much in the way of possibility – save for the amnesia issue – and it makes one wonder what might have been if the authors had taken as much time on their craft as they did on their creativity.
HelenKay: Kiss The Year Goodbye consists of a four-pack of holidays stories. The stories are diverse in theme and tone, and include a tale about the dark and twisted side of love, two tales which purport to be about love but say more about infidelity, and one tale focused on an attraction to a younger male. The book’s tag line promises: Four sizzling tales to spice up your night. To the extent a reader goes in expecting this promise, that reader is likely to feel cheated as none of the novellas rises to keeper status and few of the authors’ risks pay off.
In Whatever It Takes by Tu-Shonda Whitaker, a thirty-something woman searches for a little holiday fun and, instead, finds love in the arms of her friend’s twenty-something son. India Parker has been searching for Mr. Right for quite some time. Her tendency is to end up with Mr. Very Wrong. She is accustomed to being disappointed by the men in her life. And the men in the lives of her female friends don’t appear much better. While running an errand for one of those friends, Joan, India runs into Joan’s college graduate son Devon. Devon makes a not-so-subtle pass then refuses to take no for an answer. Before India knows it, she’s sleeping Devon and trying to figure out how to tell Joan, all while waiting for Devon to move onto someone else. In her haste to convince him he can do better, she nearly loses him.
Whatever It Takes is the most traditional in terms of what readers expect of novellas in a romance anthology. It is a boy-meets-girl, girl-almost-blows-it tale with the added twist of a thirteen year age difference between the hero and heroine. The tone is light and the conversation between the women plays as realistic, even if it can be a bit hard to follow. The dialog is accessible while maintaining a street feel. For example, readers hardly ever see phrases such as: "Let me be the first to tell you, when I’ve been blessed to get my freak on, my brick-house hips have turned tricks, don’t get it confused!" Here, it works.
What falters is the plot. The quick move from attraction to love by Devon, and later by India, happens in fast forward and does not feel intrinsic to the novella. The story may have been better served with a slower build up and an ending that provided satisfaction, but not a guaranteed happily-ever-after.
In Brenda L. Thomas’ Every New Year, Dr. Cynthia Lampley’s plans for a Hawaii vacation with her fiancee Terrell are derailed when she drives into the middle of a shoot-out and lands in the hospital with a case of amnesia. Enter a handsome doctor who sparks life into her ho-hum romantic life. Dr. Strohmile meets her, and despite her condescending attitude and nasty personality, manages to fall for her. Immediately. Throwing aside all standards of ethics, he begins to court her and ends up making love to her in the hospital while she’s still recuperating. Cyn’s memory returns right about the time Terrell finds her. The choose-between-two-guys set-up bumps along thanks to a limited plot and an unlikable heroine.
Cyn’s fault not only lies in her sense of entitlement and easy venture into infidelity, but also in how she deals with her work. There is a significant "ick" factor here in that Cyn is a urologist who loves her job. This would not be a condemning feature, except that what she loves is touching her patients’ penises. Since readers have doctors and certainly don’t want to think those doctors are getting turned on during intimate examinations, this trait is hard to accept and inpossible to ignore.
Crystal Lacey Winslow’s Dangerously In Love is a different kind of love story. One based on unhealthy love and mental illness. Here, sweet and innocent Jovie gets mixed up with London, a real player and professional bodyguard to the stars. London leads a life of fun and extravagance. He enjoys women and has a problem with fidelity, starting with his extracurricular activities back when he dated a woman named Su. When Jovie enters the picture, London thinks he has found someone he can trust. Jovie’s twin sister Jada has other ideas. She lures London into bed by pretending to be Jovie. And the infidelity does not end there. London hooks up with Su, continues to sleep with Jada and tries to build a relationship separate from all that with Jovie.
Only, Jovie isn’t what she seems. Jada isn’t what she seems. In a twist that is telegraphed from the beginning of the novella, London learns the hard way that infidelity has a price and that sometimes mental illness and romance are a very dangerous mix. The result is a novella that never feels romantic and that ends in the least romantic way possible. Dangerously In Love starts out in a convoluted manner and ends dramatically. The novella, despite it’s unlikable hero, works in some levels but only in a Fatal Attraction way. However, it’s inclusion here seems misplaced and decidedly unromantic.
Daaimah S. Poole’s My Boo rounds out the anthology. Here, a successful business owner in Philadelphia is trying to balance a long-distance relationship with her boyfriend Chris with the rest of her life. Feeling lonely and frustrated in not seeing Chris, Gina gets sucked into her roommate’s social lifestyle and the sweet-talk of Gina’s last sexual conquest Kahlil. Kahlil sweeps Gina off her feet with good sex and empty promises. But once Gina has left Chris behind, she’s not so sure that’s what she wants.
My Boo is an example of a woman wanting one thing and thinking she wants another. Gina is a realistic portrayal of a woman caught between the fun guy and the one she really wants. She makes bad choices. Dumb choices, but real choices, even though they can be uncomfortable to read. What feels rushed and hurried is Chris’ reaction to Gina’s infidelity and Kahlil’s change without explanation. With more time and a greater rise in conflict, the ending would have felt more satisfying. As is, the novella charts a familiar theme but gives it less attention than it needs.
Wendy’s Question: Whatever It Takes ventures into May-December relationship-land with a thirteen year age difference between the hero and heroine. Whitaker takes a risk in that the hero is younger than the heroine. This scenario has long been taboo in women’s fiction (or largely rejected by readers, at least), but as society becomes more accepting, that change will like show up more often in fiction. What do you think? Is it time for younger heroes? Or, is the opportunity for the ick factor the same as it for historicals where the hero is 30+ and heroine a teenager?
HelenKay’s Response: The older-man-younger-woman mix will always work in historicals because, even though it may be annoying, it is historically accurate. Books like How Stella Got Her Groove Back and others have diped into what is traditionally believed to be the forbidden world of younger-men-older-women romance. The problem may be, and why this may not catch on or feel as intriniscially satisfying, is that there is a common and general perception that men take longer to mature. So, if we want our heroes to have life experience (as well as sexual experience) and maturity, that may always be tied to our theory that they need to be older to gain those aspects. In the real world, older men can be as immature as younger ones. No question. But until the younger-man-older-woman romance catches on in the real world as ceases to be thought of in terms of school teachers getting pregnant by their middle school students, this is going to be a tougher sell.
Wendy’s Final Thought: Save your kisses.
HelenKay’s Final Thought: The anthology starts off with promise but none of novellas reach their potential.