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Rosie's Curl and Weave
by Rochelle Alers, Donna Hill,
Felicia Mason & Francis Ray
(St. Martin's, $5.99, PG) ISBN: 0-312-96828-0
St. Martin's has created a little somethin' somethin' for the sistahs. Rosie's Curl and Weave is an anthology of four romances by Felicia Mason, Donna Hill, Francis Ray and Rochelle Alers. The collection is unified by scenes in Rosie's Curl and Weave, a hair salon on historic 125th Street in Harlem.

Rosie's Curl and Weave captures the essence of the Black beauty shop. We get glimpses of the "fast-talking, hair-pressing-weaving-curling sisters at Rosie's whose wagging tongues were sharper than their hair-cutting shears." Rosie's is a full-service salon. Clients can get a press and curl, perms, braids, weaves, curls, manicures, pedicures and facials. But, as the four stories in the anthology illustrate, Rosie's specializes in total make overs for the mind, the body and the spirit.

Rosie's Curl and Weave begins with "In Love Again," a mature, full-bodied romance about second chances by Felicia Mason. Louis Sweet is a 57-year old widower. He and his late wife, Rosie, met in beauty school, married and established their first salon in the basement of the apartment building where they lived.

After Rosie's death several years ago, women "descended on the salon like a plague of locusts in heat. Word had gotten out that an eligible older widower was available. The ladies gave him three months, what they apparently decided was a suitable mourning period, then all of a sudden the shop overflowed with apple and sweet potato pies."

Elaine Webster was a regular client at the salon who had recently lost her husband. Elaine decided she still had a lot of life left and "she could be part of it or wither up and join her husband." She longed for a little courtship romance and magic to augment her church, volunteer work and sorority activities.

Louis and Elaine have more than 50 years of marriage between them. Sparks fly and the hot flashes are not menopausal, but romantic. Felicia Mason has crafted a thoughtful story that explores human sexuality after age 40 a theme often ignored in contemporary romances. It is also a story about seeking life and love after loss.

"Just Like That" by Donna Hill, is the story of self-absorbed Chauncie Frazier, the daughter of Della Frazier. Della is the take-charge manager of Rosie's Curl and Weave who was introduced in "In Love Again."

Unlike her mother, Chauncie is a bit of a gadfly. She's supposed to be the salon's assistant manager, but Chauncie's an actress waiting for her "big break." When Della leaves for a six-week vacation, Chauncie hasn't a clue what to do. On her way out, her mother calmly tells her: "This is your first big break, act like a manager."

After the initial shock of being in charge and the day-from-hell ends, Chauncie is determined to become Ms. Management instead of Mismanagement. She engages in a bit of method acting taking her cues from Angela Bassett, Vanessa Williams, Lynn Whitfield, Halle Berry and Melanie Griffin until she can get it together. Chauncie meets construction worker Drew Lennox who gives her pointers on management and being herself. Donna Hill has given us another set of strong, realistic characters and subtle touches of humor.

When we meet Jessica Ames, heroine of Francis Ray's "The Awakening," she is a "drab looking woman in a mud-brown suit that did nothing for her almond complexion" who was so unnoticeable she nearly "blended into the wall." She has been invited to New York to spend time with Sheldon Jackson, a career-climbing attorney willing to marry the boss' dreary daughter on the way to a senior partnership in the law firm.

The demands of his job are infinitely more important than the wooing of Jessica, so he dispatches his older brother Gabe initially to pick her up from the airport. Later, Sheldon extends Gabe's duties to "keep Jessica occupied until I have time to ask her to marry me. Her parents have secretly given me their blessing." And what about Jessica's feelings? Sheldon cavalierly remarks: "She'll be grateful. She's no raving beauty."

At this point, I can't wait for Sheldon to get his comeuppance. Of course, Gabe recognizes that Jessica is a diamond in the rough and gives his brother every opportunity to redeem himself. In the meantime, we get to see glimpses of the real Jessica neither Sheldon nor her parents know. We also get a grand tour of historic Harlem. Gabe encourages Jessica's internal make over and Rosie's just improves on the packaging. "The Awakening" is a definite winner.

Last, but not least is "Special Delivery," by Rochelle Alers. It's a story of class and caste, a blue-collar/white-collar romance. Zahara Jenkins is assistant manager of a Harlem branch bank across the street from Rosie's Curl and Weave. She's also the sister of an NBA superstar.

When her Wharton School of Business-MBA graduate date stands her up hours before an important business dinner, Zahara needs an escort fast! Her hairstylist offers her a man who's "just your type." To Zahara's chagrin, the health food deliveryman is pressed into service as her last minute squire for the black-tie affair.

Adam Vaughn is drop-dead gorgeous. After a few moments mentally disparaging "Mr. Industrial Jumpsuit," Zahara goes out with him. Adam is well-versed in the social graces and, once she relaxes, Zahara has a good time. Adam may not be Mr. Right, but he's definitely Mr. Right Now. As their relationship progresses, Zahara has to decide whether to get down from her socio-economic high horse and pursue happiness. "Special Delivery" is a great story about first impressions and the things that divide us.

Rosie's Curl and Weave is not Shelly Garrett's "Beauty Shop." Rosie's serves as a backdrop for one relationship and three couples meet at the salon. Rosie's Curl and Weave is an evenly weighted collection of romances by four of the best contemporary authors. There's no need to make an appointment at Rosie's. Walk-ins accepted. It's definitely worth a visit.

--Gwendolyn Osborne

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