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Willaful Review (and thoughts): Always in My Heart by Kayla Perrin



Sensuality rating: steamy

This is my first book from Harlequin’s “Kimani” line, and my primary thought reading it was that it’s really messed up that there needs to be an entire separate line for romances with black characters. By any standards I can think of, Always in My Heart is a category romance — it’s a secret baby story, for crying out loud, what could be more typical? — and could be published under a general line, which makes Kimani seem like a publishing ghetto.  Or is it valuable as a tool for people to easily find romances with black characters?  There’s no one definite answer, as the author points out in a Karen Knows Best interview from 2007:

KP: in many ways, I understand the publishers’ dilemma. They know there is a huge AA market. They want AA readers to be able to easily identify books they might relate to. The easiest way to do that is to make the covers ethnocentric.

Booksellers say the same thing—that having an AA section where there is a large AA readership helps readers know where to go to find the stories they’re looking for. It’s the kind of question for which there isn’t necessarily an easy answer.

KKB: What are your thoughts on niche marketing? What do you think the limitations are if any?

KP: I think there are lots of limitations, one of which is alienating the general reader. There really is a feeling, with the current marketing, that if the books are being marketed to the AA reader, then that’s the only demographic which will enjoy AA books. That’s a serious limitation.

I know there are category lines that do publish a few romances with black characters. This is what I’ve noticed in my (extremely limited) reading experience:

The Kimani romance: standard category, no major focus on race, but did include an issue particularly relevant to the characters as black people. The heroine and hero were both activists against racially motivated police violence; the original conflict between them was his joining the police force to try to improve the system from within, and her seeing this as a betrayal. Also, their son is given a West African name. I thought the story did a good job overall of having black characters without making everything be about the fact that they’re black; perhaps other readers might think there’s not enough about it.

The Silhouette Desire romance (name forgotten): This was an absolutely typical Texas tycoon story and nothing, except the cover and a very minor mention of the heroine’s skin tone, indicated in any way whatsover that the main characters were black and that the writer was black.

Of course this comparison is useless because you can’t make a judgement about entire lines based on two books. Still, it gave me food for thought. It’s as if the Desire characters were allowed to be black as long as readers don’t have to think about it; Kimani characters got a little more freedom within the basic formula, although only the most bigoted “general i.e white reader” would find anything in the story to alienate them. I’d love input and title recommendations from others who’ve read these lines more extensively.

As for the book itself: If I were rating solely on the writing, I’d give it 2 1/2 stars. The style is bland and there’s a lot of grating repetition; when every character uses the same phrase to describe a situation (“couldn’t be faithtful” is said about an offscreen character three times) it doesn’t feel real to me.

I’m rating it up a bit because I found the portrayal of Nigel so appealing. He’s very vulnerable, having loved Callie devotedly and been deeply wounded by her. Unlike many romance heroes, his pain doesn’t cause him to act out in hyper-masculinized ways; he’s a family man at heart and is still hoping to find the right woman to settle down with.  Although he’s wary of Callie, fearful she’ll run away from him again, he embraces his newfound son with complete commitment.

So as a pleasant story with an appealing hero, I’m giving it three stars; I’ll probably check out the next books in the series, which will be about Callie’s sisters. You can buy Always in My Heart from Amazon here or from B&N here.

A few more pertinent comments from the interview:

KKB: Have you been personally involved in trying to bring about changes within the publishing industry, with regards to how African American authors are treated? If so can you tell me about your efforts?

KP: I have voiced my opinion in support of having an AA category for the Rita Awards, since our books don’t final (or hardly ever) in the current categories. We have some fabulous books out there, but they’re not finaling. I’d love to know why.

KKB: Do you think this will still be a controversial subject in five years time, or do you think major changes would have been made by then?
KP: The cynic in me says that in 5 years, it will still be a controversial topic. The dreamer in me hopes there’ll be substantial changes. Only time will tell!

This interview took place in 2007 — five years ago. There’s no African American RITA category and in 2012 there were no African American winners. It looks like time hasn’t told us anything very encouraging.

A Plea To AA Romance Writers…

Monday, February 6, 2012
Posted in: AA authors, AA romance

If you want to appeal to a wider audience and market, please refrain from giving your characters ghetto-fabulous names like La Shonda or Deshawn. Seriously, stop it.

Come one, come all, to meet black authors of romance, mystery, poetry, science fiction, and every other genre and subgenre of writing, fiction or otherwise! Many of them are hidden away in the African American (also known by some as black ghetto) section of most bookstores.

Via Farrah Rochon’s blog I chanced upon this wonderful idea (brain child of author Carleen Brice) to start changing the tide, to dispel preconceived notions (both among readers and book sellers) about writing by blacks. In her own words, from the White Readers Meet Black Authors blog:

Welcome readers of all races, shapes and sizes. Here is where you’ll be safely, carefully introduced to books written by black people. Now, don’t be alarmed. The books are written by black people, but like other books, they can be read by anybody. In fact, we WANT you to read our books. Don’t let the fact that publishers and booksellers put us in the back in the special section of the store scare you. They do that because they want African American readers to be able to find us easily, which is a good thing. However, it has come to our attention that it also puts some of the rest of you off.

So we are extending an official invitation for you to check out our section of the bookstore. Much like in the rest of the bookstore you’ll find books about thugs, hos, murder, revenge, sex, sisters, mothers, daughters, friends, husbands and wives, children, and God. You’ll find romance, mystery, deep thoughts about the meaning of life and death, tear-jerkers and belly laughs.

I’m foreseeing actual in-store parties around the country one day. But first our humble little blog here will introduce you to some of the writers you may never otherwise know about, but I promise you will like. At least, I promise you will like or hate as much as any other writer or any other book you’ll find in the rest of the store.


Risk by Ann Christopher.

Risk is the first book by Ms Christopher that I’ve read, and I was very eager to read it because the premise of the story intrigued me very much. Unfortunately, this was one of those cases in which my personal baggage interfered severely with my potential enjoyment of the novel.

A spark of desire

Fine and fearless, Justus Robinson doesn’t hesitate to hit on gorgeous law student Angela Dennis at his brother’s wedding, even though she’s the bride’s sister. That night the two share an unforgettably sexy dance, but nothing more–until ten years later, when a tragedy reunites them.

A test of love

Angela has barely healed from a breakup when her sister and brother-in-law are killed in an accident. Sharing their grief, Justus and Angela discover they are still attracted to each other. But when they find themselves competing to adopt their orphaned young niece, their rekindled passion is sorely tested. Justus is determined to raise the child even if it means alienating the woman he’s never stopped wanting. Reeling from loss and tormented by her desire for Justus, Angela makes a drastic move—one that will change the lives of everyone involved.

As usual, the blurb has more than a few things wrong: Angela gets dumped on a Friday evening, her sister and brother in law die in a car accident that same weekend—how much healing can she have done? I’ll say pretty much zero. As for the ‘rekindled passion’ bit… *put upon sigh* (more…)

My Verdict

Loved. It. I really, really did.

The Heroine

Angela was exquisitely neurotic, and had me teetering forwards and backwards in terms of how I felt about her, throughout the book.

In the beginning she was a stuck up, selfish bitch who needed a good kicking, but as the story went on, I realised that the one thing I liked about Angela was the sense of ‘realness’ that I got from her character.

She wasn’t perfect, at times she could be downright selfish and self-absorbed, and ordinarily, this type of heroine would usually have me running for the hills screaming blue murder, wielding an axe, but as the story develops, the reader sees less and less of the self-indulgent Angela, and instead is introduced to a woman who wants to do the right thing by her niece.

The reader sees a woman who’s plagued with insecurities, desperate to change, but doesn’t really know where to start. A woman who every now, and again is willing to unbend enough to try something that takes her out of her comfort zone. I liked this Angela, I got this Angela.

The Hero

Justus was wonderful. Decent, and honest, and kind. He really was.

He was a red-blooded, charismatic, successful man, who’d had his share of beautiful women, and wasn’t ashamed to admit it, but his fateful encounter with Angela ten years ago, had made a huge impression with him, and left him with feelings that he’d never been able to explain away.

He wasn’t as complex as Angela, because I didn’t find myself in the same tug-of-like conflict with his character. He was fairly consistent all the way through the book, and actually, that was quite nice, especially in light of the fact that Angela’s character was as mercurial as the weather.

The thing that I loved most about Justus was the way he was with Maya. I love stories where the hero is able to interact in a normal way with children, without giving me a sickly sweet, sugar overdose, or channeling The Pied Piper of Hamelin.

I could tell that he loved Maya, and that his relationship with her was one of the most important things in his life. That says a lot about a man, and it made me as the reader more willing to trust that for all of his male-slut ways, when he eventually fell in love, it would be for real, and forever.

Although the two of them didn’t actually consumate their relationship till much later in the story, the build-up was so tension-filled, that I started looking forward, in desperate anticipation, to their next chemistry-fuelled scenes, together. The pages fairly smoked with all of the sexual tension, between the two of them. It’s great when an author is able to harness that, and bring it to a story.

Secondary Characters

One of the main secondary characters in the story, was Vincent, Justus’ cold, super-driven, super-snobbish father. Justus and his father had never seen eye to eye, and Justus had always felt that he was a bitter disappointment to his father. A point which Vincent had no qualms about harping back to, time and time again.

There was a particluarly powerful scene in the book, where Vincent spurns Justus’ attempt to help him, after his heart starts troubling him, and he intimates that if he had to have a son die, it should have been Justus. At that point, I must admit to actually wanting to seriously injure him in some way

I feared that Ann Christopher was going to go the route of turning Vincent into a one-dimensional, evil-bastard character, but luckily, as the story unfolded, we got to see a gentler, less reprehensible side to him. I like characters in books, who make me question my feelings towards them. I like the uncertainty of not knowing how I feel about a character from one minute to the next, it makes things a little more interesting.


Maya was the thread, that not only brought Justus and Angela together, but she was the common ground that Justus and his father desperately needed to reach a place of compromise and conciliation.

I loved how Christopher didn’t turn her into the model child, fully equipped with a halo on her head, and angel wings sprouting from her back. She was sometimes, naughty, and she was sometimes nice, but she was always an interesting character, for one so young. The scenes with her and Angela were bittersweet. Angela’s inexperience with children shining through, every time Maya behaved like a typical three year-old. There were a few heart-warming scenes, between Maya, Justus, and Angela, but at no point did Christopher wade into Corny As Hell territory. I liked that.

The Story

I loved how Christopher was able to weave such a beautifully intense story, without making me feel like I’d been put through an emotional wringer. She didn’t waste time with extraneous plots, and a multitude of secondary characters, and instead concentrated on developing multi-dimensional leads, who fairly jumped off the page for me. The pacing was good, and at no point did I feel the need to go and watch my grass grow in the garden.

Risk wasn’t quite the perfect read, I wasn’t overly enamoured by the fact that Justus was just 17, and Angela 24, when they first met, I think I would have felt a lot more comfortable if he had been at least twenty years old. Also, I noticed that Christopher really liked using the word ‘cried’ a lot. Had she kept this particular verb to just the females, (e.g. “My God Angela, he cried”) I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have noticed her over-use of it.

I was able to get past the imperfections, and as minor as they were, they certainly didn’t stop me from being enchanted by Christopher’s version of love at first sight. I loved the way she made me believe in the possibility that love can start with a single glance, and a single dance, and that those feelings can be strong enough to transcend time and tragedy.

This was romance in the truest sense of the word, and so often, authors fall short of providing that very necessary ingredient. I certainly take my hat off to Ann Christopher, she wrote a wonderful story, and one that was very hard to put down.

You can buy Risk here, and visit Ann Christopher’s website, here.

Thanks to Linda for reccing this to me, you were soooo right.

A few people have recommended this book to me, (thanks Byrdlovestoread!) so I bought it. I may let you know how I like it, if I can be arsed. I’ll be writing the review for Rockstar later today, so, we’ll see…

Blurb From Amazon

You can visit Ann Christopher here, and buy Risk, here.

Bettye’s latest book, Nothing But Trouble

When did you first get published?


What genre do you write in?

Two: Romance and mainstream women’s fiction.

What race/colour are the majority of your characters?


How is your work marketed?

As African-American fiction or romance. Sometimes, to my great annoyance, as “street lit.”

Where are your books generally shelved?

Unfortunately, many stores put all black books together. Even within romance sections, the books by black authors are often placed separately from the other books.

I have also seen some of my mainstream fiction shelved with romance, which is incorrect. In this case I reshelve my books in the general fiction section.

Where would you prefer your books to be shelved?

Alphabetically by author. If romances are kept separate from general fiction, still alphabetically by author. And I do appreciate special placement on end displays, front tables, etc., when a book is new!

Have you been subjected to direct/indirect racism from editors, publishers etc in your publishing career.

An agent once turned me down, saying my project was too reminiscent of Waiting To Exhale. I asked her if I’d written a legal thriller if she would have turned me down because it was too reminiscent of The Firm, or if that pigeonholing is strictly for black authors. Needless to say, she didn’t respond. I signed with someone else.

How do you feel about Oprah Winfrey’s book club- Do you think she could do more to promote AA authors?

It’s not up to me to criticize someone’s personal taste. I don’t write the kind of gloomy book Oprah seems to like. However, when in the movie The Best Man a characters mentions his first book, a commercial novel, “was chosen by Oprah for her book club,” this struck me as highly implausible . . . even for Hollywood.

Do you believe that publishers are more ambivalent when it comes to marketing AA books?

I don’t believe there’s any ambivalence involved; I think the decision has already been made not to do any marketing unless it’s a Big, Big Name.

Which race groups would you say bought the majority of your books?

I do believe the majority are black, although people with European-sounding names have written to me, and white women and men also have bought my books at signings.

What do you think needs to change in order for more white people to read African American books?

They need to be the minority. The majority usually is at an advantage in multiple facets of life.

Have you ever been snubbed by white readers/white authors during a signing?

No, I can’t say I have.

Have you ever been overlooked by an editor in favour of a white author?

Not to my knowledge.

Have you ever been asked to tone down, or increase the ethnicity within your books?

No. And I hope I never am. It won’t be pretty.

sorry, I had to chuckle at that

Are you familiar with Millennia Black’s lawsuit against Penguin?


If so, what do you think her chances of winning are?

I’m no fortune teller, but I hope she wins.

How do you think her victory will affect the way AA authors are treated within the industry?

To white publishers and editors, there’s writers and there’s black writers. I don’t think that’s going to change anytime soon, no matter what happens.

What are your thoughts on niche marketing? What do you think the limitations are if any?

I have no problem with being marketed in, say, Essence magazine. I do like it better when I see an ad for a book by Francis Ray and by (insert name of white author who writes for same publisher here) in RT Bookclub magazine. Word of mouth is, of course, priceless.

Have you been personally involved in trying to bring about changes within the publishing industry, with regards to how African American authors are treated? If so can you tell me about your efforts?

No, I haven’t.

Do you think this will still be a controversial subject in five years time, or do you think major changes would have been made by then?

I wouldn’t expect any changes in five years, no.

Thank you for taking the time to answer my questions.

You’re welcome!

If you want to learn more about Bettye, and her books, you can access her website here.

Coming up next, Seressia Glass.