Della's House of Style
by Rochelle Alers, Donna Hill,
Felicia Mason & Francis Ray
(St. Martin’s, $6.50, PG-13) ISBN 0-312-97497-3
Now my advice for those who die
Declare the pennies on your eyes
'Cause I'm the taxman, yeah I’m the taxman
-The Beatles-

Rosie's Curl and Weave has had a makeover of its own. It's now Della’s House of Style. The fashionable, upscale Harlem salon is under new ownership. The Della’s House of Style anthology features four romances about four buttoned-up professionals who need to let their hair down a bit.

Della Frazier, who bears an uncanny resemblance to Diahann Carroll, is the salon’s new owner. Della was introduced last year in stories by Felicia Mason and Donna Hill as the no-nonsense manager of Rosie’s. (Della is the focus of the lead story and, as any good businesswoman, appears from time to time in the other stories in this collection.) She has added “Della's Place,” a trendy café and nightclub next to the salon.

It is “Della's Place” that lands her on the wrong end of a run-in with the Internal Revenue Service in Donna Hill’s “It Could Happen to You.” Prior to the grand opening of her new venture, Della learns that she owes the IRS $75,000. To make matters worse, relentless Matt “Take No Prisoners” Hawkins is assigned to her case.

Matt must have been off the day the memo about the kinder, gentler IRS was circulated. ”It was probably too late for him. He’d let his job consume him. He seemed to take out his loneliness and frustrations on anyone who walked through the doors of his office.” His professional overzealousness has already cost him his marriage and his daughter’s regard. The studly bureaucrat has already audited Della’s, er, assets and likes what how things add up. But his job could sabotage their relationship. “It Could Happen to You” is classic Donna Hill with music and the sights and sounds of New York providing a backdrop.

“A Matter of Trust” by Francis Ray is the story of theater producer Sebastian Stone and actress-cum-stylist Hope Lassiter. Hope is a widow with an adorable young son who is interested in reading for a part in Sebastian Stone’s upcoming Broadway play. Fate plays a role in their meeting when Sebastian’s regular stylist is unable to service him and recommends her. Sebastian takes one look at Hope -- with her spiked do with purple tips for a play she’s doing -- and bolts from the salon, but not before telling her she wouldn’t be right for the part. Undeterred, Hope wows everyone at the audition and Sebastian finds himself having to beg her to take the role. A catty actress adds drama. Other wonderful secondary characters add humor and support. Attorney Shelton Jackson, from “The Awakening,” makes an all too brief appearance in “A Matter of Trust.” I hope we will get his story soon.

Puerto Rican and African-American cultures and class issues blend in Rochelle Alers’ “Sweet Surrender.” Cameron King is a stuffy financial services executive who brings his niece to Della’s for a complete makeover for her high school prom. Nail technician Maria Ynez Parker and Cameron briefly disagree over what would be proper for a teenager. By the end of the visit, Cameron was impressed with Maria and her work. A big tip and flowers were followed by a social invitation. But Maria hesitates because she has not been involved in a relationship since her husband’s death seven years earlier. She is afraid to love and lose again.

Rochelle Alers has created a sparkling romance with all the elements I enjoy in her stories. Her secondary characters, particularly Maria’s large, close-knit family, subtle humor and glimpses of Harlem and East Harlem drew me into “Sweet Surrender.”

“Truly, Honestly” by Felicia Mason is a blue-collar/white-romance with an interesting twist. Daryl Desmond moonlights as a DJ at Della’s Place. He is attracted to Sheila Landon, an erstwhile party girl and a regular at the club. After several weeks of a developing mutual attraction from across the room, Sheila and Daryl take their relationship to the next level. As they date and get to know each other, the couple learns that things are not always as they seem. Felicia Mason has created an excellent big misunderstanding story with an interesting lesson about first impressions.

St. Martin’s Press has once again created a wonderful collection of African-American romances by some of my favorite writers. Each story is a solid four-heart read, I strongly recommend -- individually and collectively. Rosie’s Curl and Weave, Della’s House of Style and Island Magic have placed the publisher's anthologies on my automatic buy list. I am looking forward to Welcome to Leo’s, the December collection with stories by Brenda Jackson, Rochelle Alers, Francis Ray and Donna Hill.

--Gwendolyn Osborne

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