Last year, Black Entertainment Television, which also owns Arabesque/BET Books selected Donna Hill’s novella, “Masquerade,” as one of ten romances to be produced as a made-for-TV movie. The film premiered on February 4. The publisher has reissued Love Letters, the 1997 Valentine’s Day anthology which includes Hill’s story to coincide with the release of the film.
“Masquerade,” the second story in the collection, is an Internet romance. Mousy romance publishing executive Joi Holliday camouflages her good looks under glasses and drab, oversized clothing to discourage male attention on her job. Her disguise also appeases her father who hasn’t gotten over his abandonment by Joi’s attractive mother.
Freelance writer and copy editor Marcus Speller has worked with Joi for six months. Marcus isn’t fooled by the cover-up and he is attracted to the person Joi is underneath all that subterfuge. She has noticed Marcus on more than one occasion, but is reluctant to pursue a relationship with someone at work. Besides, Joi has hidden herself away for so long, she’s begun to believe that she is undesirable.
She fantasizes about a man she’s met via the Sociable Singles Network on the Internet. Unknown to Joi, Marcus is online doing research for a magazine article he’s writing on Internet dating. When there are virtually too many coincidences, Marcus and Joi begin to wonder who their respective cybersweeties really are. “Masquerade” is full of love and laughter. The book also has a great soundtrack featuring the songs by the Whispers. It’s one of my favorite high-tech romances.
Masquerade is flanked by two excellent second-chance stories by Rochelle Alers and Janice Sims.
In “Hearts of Gold,” Rochelle Alers reprises sculptor Shumba Naaman, whose character was introduced in the 1995 Christmas story, “First Fruits.”
Several years ago, Kenyon Bryant and Francis Humphries were in love and on the fast track. Just before they were to be married, Francis quit his job as a successful Wall Street stockbroker to become a fledgling artist. He changed from his conservative corporate appearance to locks and Afrocentric designs. He changed his name to Shumba Naaman. Kenyon initiated a change of her own and called off the wedding.
Although they live in the same city, Kenyon and Shumba have not seen each other since their breakup. A chance meeting at a Manhattan gallery provides them with an opportunity to reconcile their differences.
Rochelle Alers has a flair for the short form. Her characters are wonderful multidimensional people who fill up the pages. There is wonderful humor, sexual tension and classic touches Alers adds to her stories that make them memorable.
“To Love Again” rounds out the collection. Like Rochelle Alers, Janice Sims also picks up characters-- Alana, Margery and Toni -- from an earlier work, All the Right Reasons.
San Francisco police officers and partners Michael Calloway and Nicholas Setera met a woman at a local nightspot several years ago. She was attracted to both of them, but after a brief courtship, she married Michael. Nico submerged his love for her and resigned himself to being the couple’s best friend.
“To Love Again” opens several years later. Michael Calloway is dead, killed in a shooting while he was off-duty. It has been a year since his death and his widow Alana is still trying to cope. One night an apparition -- that looks and sounds like Michael -- appears before her with a warning that she would soon uncover many surprising things about him. In the days that follow, Alana begins to question whether she ever really knew the man she shared her life with. She calls on her close friend Nico to help her. He can refuse her nothing and agrees to discover what he can. Nico and Alana are now both free to act on the dormant attraction that has existed between them.
Janice Sims’ has written a wonderful romance with several interesting plot twists and surprises. Alana and Nico make another all-too brief appearance in Sims’ current romance, A Bittersweet Love.
I’ve reread these stories since they were first published in 1997. The complete Love Letters collection is as good as it gets. It’s in that wonderful area between four and five hearts -- a place where a reader who picks up this anthology won’t be disappointed by any of the stories inside.