Follow Your Heart
by Raynetta Mañees
(Arabesque, $4.99, PG) ISBN 0-7860-0560-2
*****
Grammy award-winning singer "Meeko Moore" may be a star in the pop music heavens, but her alter ego Tameka Morgan has her feet planted on terra firma. After the latest run-in with her sleazy manager, Danny Dorsey, over her refusal to perform material "that would make a streetwalker blush," Meeko/Tameka leaves Los Angeles for her mother's home in Halcyon, Georgia.

"I'm not Meeko Moore in my mama's living room. Here I'm just plain Tameka Morgan."

In rural Georgia, Tameka is re-energized by her faith, her late father's teachings and a warm support system anchored by her mother, best friend and surrogate aunts and uncles. People who have known her since childhood, call her "Tammi." On her first day home, she meets Tyler Barnett, assistant pastor of the Third Avenue Church of Halcyon.

Ty and Tammi are immediately attracted to one another and the two create humorous sexual tension over her offer of a piece of warm peach cobbler – which he readily accepts. But Ty senses Tameka's reluctance to see him as a man and not just a man of the cloth. "I'm surprised at you. I would have thought you of all people would have no problem separating the person from what he does for a living." She is still wary of the impact the small closed minds and big open mouths in town could have on his ministry. "You know some people assume with me being a recording artist and living in L.A., I'm into all seven of the deadly sins – and have probably invented an eighth."

Ty's comeback is a bit of folk wisdom from his grandmother: "Honey, they talked about Jesus. What makes you think people ain't gonna talk about you?"

That said, their circumspect courtship begins in earnest. Tameka spends two weeks helping the young people's choir prepare for the Gospelfest competition in Atlanta after a difficult pregnancy sidelines the choir director. Working with the teenagers in the choir is her way of giving back to the community that nurtured her.

Tameka's Halcyon days are not. Her reptilian manager is lurking about and not everyone is overjoyed about her homecoming. There are "a few tight jaws, and eyes that did not smile, even though the lips beneath them did."

It seems that some of the good sisters of the Third Avenue Church of Halcyon aren't about to cut Tameka any slack for her conquest of the county's most eligible bachelor. One parishioner goes to extraordinary lengths to capture the right reverend's attention. While her actions lead to a very funny scene at the church picnic and a catfight in the local beauty parlor, they also cause harmful gossip that threatens to separate Ty and Tameka and ruin their reputations.

I liked Follow Your Heart a lot. The main characters are fresh and human. Once they discover their mutual attraction, they don't waste a lot of time playing cat-and-mouse games. They like each other and say so. Tameka is a no-nonsense heroine who displays a personal and professional maturity that belies her 23 years.

And you've gotta love Reverend Ty. He's a fine former college football player who tools around town in "Maybelline," a pink and black 1957 Buick Roadmaster he personally restored. He is as painstakingly committed to his ministry in Halcyon as he is to Tameka and Maybelline. We get a realistic glimpse of the man behind the clerical collar.

Mañees has also captured the flavor of the Black church right down to cardboard funeral home fans and the beauty shop scene is a classic. While the overall pacing is excellent, minor flaws in the time sequences near the end of the novel don't diminish its overall effect.

Follow Your Heart is Raynetta Mañees' third novel. The author has carved out a niche for herself. She writes stories about nice people in the entertainment industry who maintain their integrity – often when all about them are losing theirs. Follow Your Heart is one of the season's most pleasant surprises for me. While I was looking to be bowled over by new releases from some of the more well-known authors of the genre, Raynetta Mañees' straightforward little story ambushed me. I couldn't put it down.

If you like your romances sweet, with a lot of sexual tension, this is the book for you. Follow Your Heart is a wonderful story with realistic characters who testify to the power of love and faith.

--Gwendolyn Osborne


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