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Follow Your Heart

Fantasy by Raynetta Maņees
(Arabesque/BET, $4.99, PG-13) ISBN 1-58314-030-1
Raynetta Maņees has used her background as a singer and actress to carve out a comfortable niche writing romances about the men and women in the entertainment industry. Her stories are about famous people who are people first, about entertainers who sift through the wannabes and hangers-on to find true love. The emphasis in Maņees' novels is on true love, not public adulation. Her recent work has added a bit more substance to her theme. Maņees has begun to write full-bodied romances about full-figured women.

Fantasy, Maņees' fourth novel, is the story of singer-songwriter Sameerah Clark. "Sam" has been encouraged by her flighty cousin Isis (AKA Isabelle), to apply for a job as an entertainer on a luxury cruise line. Isis is a dancer on the Fantasy and Sam lands a job on the ship.

Sam has been led to believe she is going to be a headliner and is disheartened to learn that she has signed on to be a back-up singer for a former pop icon from a now-defunct family trio. That's just the first big misunderstanding Sam encounters. But Sam is a lemonade maker. She takes hold of the opportunity to experience her first Caribbean cruise to make the best of what could have been an embarrassing situation.

When Sam meets her boss, Tony Harmon, she is pleased that he has definitely matured. He has made the transition from pop singer admirably. He is tall, studly and immediately smitten with Sam. Not every one is pleased by their budding relationship. And, for a variety of reasons, the backstabbing begins.

The strength of Fantasy is the relationship between Tony and Sameerah. She commands and receives respect. She is not about to be steamrolled by Tony or his claim to fame. As a result, he is forced to rethink his approach to her.

The secondary female characters are not as fully drawn as their male counterparts and often come across as flaky. While it's the weakest portion of the novel, I begrudgingly admit that these characters still play off relatively well against the stronger ones.

There are subtle mentions of Sam's size, but the author does not go overboard with the emphasis. She is a size 16 and wears it so well, she turns heads wherever she goes. Sam is not one for self-deprecating humor or fat-girl jokes. When a much smaller wannabe tries to publicly humiliate her: "My, you're a big girl, aren't you? All over." Sam calmly retorts, Yes, I am. I find it vastly preferable to just having a big mouth."

Fantasy is a welcome departure during the summer reading season. It's worth a look.

--Gwendolyn Osborne

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