From beginning to end, the Lord is the most significant character in this determined, lively novel, a spiritually confident first collaboration between music author Ritz (Howling at the Moon, 2003, etc.) and R&B-singer-turned-minister John. Albertina Merci is a former blues backup singer now in her 70s. As a "minister without a sanctuary" in Los Angeles, she studies her Bible every day and doesn't hesitate to impart the Word to her friends as she sees fit. Justine comes over to Albertina's house every morning to watch Maggie's World, an Oprah-like program hosted by glamorous ex-athlete, model and unstoppable businesswoman Maggie Clay. But suddenly the show is on the skids: Maggie is descending into manic depression, and her producer, Albertina's Yale-educated niece Cindy, has stage IV ovarian cancer. When Cindy asks her aunt to come back to Dallas and minister to her, Albertina is reluctant. Her hometown brings back memories of prejudice and pain: As a young girl, she was arrested at Neiman Marcus for touching the furs, and a store detective broke her jaw. But Albertina is an instrument of God, and she knows she is needed at Cindy's side. After her niece dies, Albertina focuses on Maggie. Having witnessed as a kid her mother's duping by ministers, Maggie is skeptical of Albertina's religion and in her manic state even attacks her as a sanctimonious hypocrite. While the two wrangle, Albertina attends to other souls in need, including an estranged married couple and a father who rejects his gay son who is dying of AIDS. Over the top, but many readers will go wild for this gospel-spouting, life-affirming story.