Surrender by Monique B. T. Thomas

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surrender2Publisher/Date:  CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, June 2013
Genre(s):  Romance, Mature Lesbians, Workplace Romance
Pages:  328
Website:  http://authormoniquebeingtruethonas.
wordpress.com

Rating:  4 Stars

SURRENDER: TWO HEARTS AND A RAINBOW SERIES (BOOK 1) reminds me of the Harlequin romance novels I used to read sneakily under the covers at night when I was nine years old: swoon-worthy and full of feels.

That’s not to say that Surrender is a saccharine love story. It has the mature relationships and wisdom expected from Monique B. T. Thomas, the author of several titles including Love Relived and In its Rawest Form. In the start of a new series, Surrender offers workplace romance, criminal mischief, and a charming family storyline. Yet as in all her previous novels, the biggest draw is the chemistry between the main love interests, in this particular case, Robyn Sterling and Kenya Martin.

Robyn and Kenya serve two different stations in Pens & Things. Robyn is the CFO in the office supply company her great-grandfather built during the 1950s, now run by her father. While she toils at keeping the family business in the black, her love life is about avoiding relationships at all costs; the only long-term commitment Robyn values is to Pens & Things. So when the discovery of financial mismanagement in one of its stores launches Robyn, at her father’s request, into a scheme to save Pen & Ink’s bottom line, she’s eager to unearth the root of the store’s issues and get back to her normal routine. That goes awry once she meets Kenya.

A petite, dark-skinned lovely, Kenya is the overnight manager at the store Robyn’s supposed take over. Her job, which she takes seriously, is to handle the early morning deliveries and ensure stock is in place before the shop opens. Untouched by love also, Kenya is a respectful, dedicated and strong-willed worker, but finds herself flustered by Robyn – first by her gruff demeanor, then by her evident attraction to the commanding woman.

This is what sets everything – Robyn’s line of attack, a company cover up, and most importantly Robyn and Kenya’s love affair – into motion, a plot that Thomas handles so swiftly that it keeps the pages flowing.

Again, the best part is the romance brewing between the Pen & Ink employees. Two women who grew up in separate worlds – Robyn with a trust fund, Kenya in a foster home – both not expecting much from love, and finding what they needed in each other. It’s just an enjoyable love story that’s believable and great to immerse yourself in.

The supporting characters, most especially Robyn’s family members, are happy additions to the story. That’s also one of Thomas’ strengths: creating characters that are flawed but endearing.

There are some faults to Surrender – the editing could use work, the ending does wrap up too quickly – but honestly, I can’t wait to see where Part Two in the Two Hearts and a Rainbow series goes. If it’s just as engrossing as this one, I’ll be back to curling up on my couch with a good book.

Review Scale
Plot
4 Stars
Writing
3.5 Stars
Characters
5 Stars
Pacing
4 Stars
That Oomph!
5 Stars
Overall: 4 Stars

Reviewed November 2014

About Monique ‘Being True’ Thomas

moniquebeingtruethomas

Monique ‘Being True’ Thomas is a native New Yorker who has been in love with the written word since the third grade. At the age of fourteen she was a teen journalist for youth magazine, FCYU, writing featured articles about the trials and triumphs of youth in the New York foster care system.

She currently has 7 books available: Forever Tangled; Volume One: a collection of poems and short stories from the heart and between the thighs; Forever Tangled Volume II: Caught in the sheets of Emotion; Love Relived; In Its Rawest Form; Notes of Seduction; An Unexpected Gift; Feeling for the Wall.

Although Thomas began with a flair for writing short stories based on mystery and murder plots, she currently writes romance and erotica for all those lovers of love and temptresses of lust. She has also been a featured radio host on Lesbian Memoirs blog Talk radio show.

Thomas has been featured in lesbian anthologies Life, Love, Lust 2011 and Life, Love, Lust 2012 published by LM Inc. She was also a featured poet in Her Voice also published by LM Inc.


Books 2 Check Out – October 2014

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Looking for something new to read? Here’s a round-up of a few novels you should check out (the titles are linked to Amazon, but most are available for purchase at Barnes & Noble, as well):

3 Degrees of Separation (The Crave Collection Book 2) by Natalie Simone

Jayne is a beautiful and ambitious vixen who still sees people as disposable. She works at a prestigious law firm and is months away from passing the bar. She is dating Damien, who wants her to be his woman. Jayne couldn’t care less about what he wants as long as he stays cool about her occasional hookups with women and stops pressuring her for a relationship.

Tramaine is good-looking, established, and the biggest player in Atlanta. Her heart was broken once, and she has taken steps to ensure that it never happens again. Jayne meets Tramaine, who quickly becomes her new best friend. They are attracted to each other, but Jayne likes her women in boy shorts—not boxers—and Tramaine already has her hands full.

Candice is hardworking and the ultimate wifey. Too bad she’s living with Tonya, who smokes and drinks all day while pretending to look for a job. Tonya is up to something, and if Candice finds out, it could destroy their relationship.

These women are all connected because in the glamorous world of women who love women in Atlanta…there are only three degrees of separation.

Delve into the other side of desire!

Bad Feminist: Essays by Roxane Gay

A collection of essays spanning politics, criticism, and feminism from one of the most-watched young cultural observers of her generation, Roxane Gay.

“Pink is my favorite color. I used to say my favorite color was black to be cool, but it is pink—all shades of pink. If I have an accessory, it is probably pink. I read Vogue, and I’m not doing it ironically, though it might seem that way. I once live-tweeted the September issue.”

In these funny and insightful essays, Roxane Gay takes us through the journey of her evolution as a woman (Sweet Valley High) of color (The Help) while also taking readers on a ride through culture of the last few years (Girls, Django in Chains) and commenting on the state of feminism today (abortion, Chris Brown). The portrait that emerges is not only one of an incredibly insightful woman continually growing to understand herself and our society, but also one of our culture.

Bad Feminist is a sharp, funny, and spot-on look at the ways in which the culture we consume becomes who we are, and an inspiring call-to-arms of all the ways we still need to do better.

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson

Jacqueline Woodson, one of today’s finest writers, tells the moving story of her childhood in mesmerizing verse.

Raised in South Carolina and New York, Woodson always felt halfway home in each place. In vivid poems, she shares what it was like to grow up as an African American in the 1960s and 1970s, living with the remnants of Jim Crow and her growing awareness of the Civil Rights movement. Touching and powerful, each poem is both accessible and emotionally charged, each line a glimpse into a child’s soul as she searches for her place in the world. Woodson’s eloquent poetry also reflects the joy of finding her voice through writing stories, despite the fact that she struggled with reading as a child. Her love of stories inspired her and stayed with her, creating the first sparks of the gifted writer she was to become.

Praise for Jacqueline Woodson:
Ms. Woodson writes with a sure understanding of the thoughts of young people, offering a poetic, eloquent narrative that is not simply a story . . . but a mature exploration of grown-up issues and self-discovery.”—The New York Times Book Review

Desire at Dawn by Fiona Zedde (the sequel to Every Dark Desire)

Recently turned from human to vampire, Kylie wants nothing to do with her new life or with the clan that claims her. She certainly wants nothing to do with her mother, Belle, who is completely infatuated with her vampire wife and clan leader.

To escape her unwanted existence, Kylie befriends a human, Olivia, who has been abandoned by her family. But unknown to Kylie, someone is watching her. An enemy has targeted her as the perfect way to destroy her clan. While battling this enemy, Kylie also grapples with the surprising desires she feels for the human. Desires that she’d once seen as wicked and wrong.

Fighting for her life, Kylie must confront both the assassins and the beast within her that would do anything to keep her loved ones safe.

Let the Lover Be by Sheree L. Greer

Functional alcoholic Kiana Lewis is looking for a way out. Running away from the memories of her mother’s horrific death and her own dead-end existence, she decides to crash her ex-lover’s New Orleans wedding and put a stop to the whole thing. She arrives in the Big Easy to reclaim her old love, and hopefully, reclaim her own life.

Her plans are disrupted when she meets Genevieve Durand, a seductive and spiritual New Orleans native who challenges Kiana’s skewed sense of resolve and control. Spending time with Genevieve, just like drinking, offers Kiana moments of escape. But unlike the numbing effect of alcohol, the intoxicating Genevieve makes Kiana feel and think about things she’d rather not, like the death of her mother and the destructive ways she uses to cope.

On the brink of losing it all, Kiana must decide if she will reach for the next drink or if she’ll reach beyond herself to finally slay the demons driving her since childhood.

Pieces of Her by A. C. Mims

On the outside, Naima seems to have the Rainbow Family dream. She and her wife, Tasha, have two adorable daughters and live on a beautiful block in Lawndale. Tasha’s career is booming, and Naima has every material thing she desires.

Then Allison enters the picture, awakening mental and physical desires that Naima thought were long buried.

In Pieces of Her, you’ll take the journey with Naima as she decides whether to follow the carefully crafted script she and Tasha wrote, or walk away from the past ten years to explore what.. and who.. is truly in her heart.

Rapture by Myesha D. Jenkins

Two women…

Two marriages…

Love changes…

Candace Vance is the wife of Rev. Nathanial Vance, the mother of two sons, and an elementary school teacher. Seemingly content in a happily married default mode, she crosses paths with Adia Knight and grasps for something different.

Seeking to renew her marriage, Adia Knight agrees to relocate to Atlanta after her husband, Judah, accepts his dream job as the director of an addiction counseling center. Adia is a self-proclaimed writer and part time lecturer trying to find her way professionally. She is uninspired and between teaching jobs.

Candace and Adia are drawn to each other, becoming fast friends. They are soon entangled by their consuming love and passion. Candace envisions a forever love with Adia. Adia is content with the love they have right now. Their tumultuous bond threatens the very foundation of the lives they have built with their husbands.

Get caught up in the rapture.

Surrender: Two Hearts & a Rainbow series (Book 1) (Volume 1) by Monique “B.T” Thomas (Author)

Robyn Sterling is a woman of wealth, sex appeal and a focus that is unbreakable. Success is what drives her. The women who want to want to warm her bed are plentiful. She knows that most of them want to be the one woman that will make her commit but Robyn has no intentions of falling into the relationship trap. Her life was going according to plan until her father involves her in a scheme that she can’t turn down.

Pain and disappointment is not something that Kenya Martin is deterred by. Despite her unstable upbringing she hasn’t hardened her heart. She isn’t looking for love but she anticipates its arrival. If the dates she has been going on or any indication the wait for hearts and candy is long off. Two women, two hearts and the possibility of white flags in the wind.

Treasure by Rebekah Weatherspoon

Her sister’s bachelorette party is the highlight of a miserable year for Alexis Chambers, but once her bridesmaid’s dress is packed away, she’s back to coping with her life as a once popular athlete and violinist turned loner and the focus of her parents’ disappointment. She isn’t expecting much from her freshman year of college until she finds herself sharing a class with Treasure, the gorgeous stripper from her sister’s party.

Trisha Hamilton has finally gotten the credits and the money together to transfer to a four-year university. Between classes, studying, and her job as a stripper, she has little time for a social life, until she runs into the adorably shy baby butch from the club. Trisha can’t seem to hide her feelings for Alexis, even when Trisha discovers what she has been through, but will Alexis have the strength to be just as fearless about their new love?

The Vagitarian Chronicles: Erotic Stories of Lesbian Love & Lust by Phoenix Rising

A vagitarian is defined as one who has a strict diet of loving, understanding and satisfying the holder of the vagina. The Vagitarian Chronicles is a collection of erotic short stories and poems centered around this definition of a vagitarian. Lose yourself in the real world, erotic adventures showcasing lesbian love and lust through the stud-femme dynamic. Caution: the stories and poems are explicitly detailed and will leave you reaching for your partner to act out some of the scenes that are described within these pages.


Cream by Christiana Harrell

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creamPublisher/Date:  CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, Aug. 2013
Genre(s):  Romance, Sexuality
Pages:  230
Website:  https://www.facebook.com/girlnovel

Rating: ★★★★★ 

CREAM is my first Christiana Harrell book. *hangs head in shame*

But it definitely won’t be my last because Harrell, whose Cream was a 2014 Lambda Literary Award finalist, truly proved her talents with a book surrounding the life of a character I loved and rooted for the entire way.

Cream is her stage name, a strip club performer with an androgynous appearance and a beautiful body. Dancing for men became a means to an end after being in a foster home after her parents’ abandonment. The first few pages introduce this past and her take-no-shit personality that serves her well as a stripper.

Lambda-Medal2014

2014 Lambda Literary Award Finalist From http://www.lambdaliterary.org

But it also gives credence to why she moves from city to city. Why she’s never befriended hardly anyone since her group home days. And why, even with the fights she’s had (and won), there’s still there’s an innocence about her.

Cream’s sexual naivety is the meat of this book. It’s shown in the way she was drawn to her friend Kitty – until she suddenly left Cream’s life. In the way she latched onto Payton, the daddy’s girl who shows her being a stud is her real meal ticket – both professionally and romantically. And when finally she finds unconditional love, she almost runs in the opposite direction.

And this realness is what I loved about Cream, both the book and the character. This gullibility Cream owns is not a Mary Sue plot device, it’s a journey Harrell writes so we can take this journey with her main character. You feel as if you’re a newbie right along with her, from Kansas City to Atlanta, and everywhere else in between.

Just the way Cream drops her boxers on the stage, Harrell’s writing leaves it all on the page. There’s very realistic dialogue, the sex is on fire, and Harrell’s voice is loud and clear through Cream without muddying the two voices. Her supporting characters also play a big role in the book, to the point where I thought Cream molded herself to any woman who offered her a hand.

That leads me to my next point that one of the most interesting aspect of Cream hinges on the sexuality of the characters. Though Cream dressed and performed as a stud based on Payton’s advice, it should be noted that Cream sometimes questions defining herself as a stud. Until meeting Payton she wasn’t aware of what a stud was, which at times I did find a skeptical. I could say it was because of her upbringing and her singular focus on survival, but never thinking about who you are sexually was a small part of the book that nagged at me. But her exploration of who she is was genuine.

Cream definitely fulfilled my expectations. The love she found and the book’s conclusion were so fulfilling, and worth the learning curve Cream took to find what I think she was always looking for – whether she could admit it to herself or not.

There’s a reason why Harrell has more than 10 books to her name. I plan to read every one of them.

Review Scale
Plot
4.5 Stars
Writing
4.5 Stars
Characters
5 Stars
Pacing
5 Stars
That Oomph!
5 Stars
Overall: 5 Stars

Reviewed June 2014


8qqlogo8 Quick Questions for Christiana Harrell about Cream

Tell us about your book, Cream.
Well, in as few words as possible, Cream is simply a story about a woman who learns some hard lessons about love and money, while discovering her identity and sexuality along her journey.

Who is Cream?
I want to say that Cream could be any of us, but she’s just too unique to be categorized. She’s carefree, she makes her own rules, she has tunnel vision, she just is.

One of the things I enjoyed about your novel was it felt as if you put yourself in the head of Cream: being on the stage, discovering her sexuality. How did you create her as a character? Any research involved?
Oh, there was plenty of research (lol). If you noticed, in the novel I mentioned real stud strippers like Face and Juicebox. I watched every video that I could find, but this time for “research,” rather than enjoyment. I watched their moves carefully and their facial expressions. I had to pay attention to costumes and audience reaction. Basically, none of the things I would normally pay attention to. We tend to forget that during the fantasy they create, they are people and they have lives outside of those neon lights. I try to be my characters in my real life when I write them. The people around me get some great entertainment.

Is Cream based on a true person or situations?
Cream is part fiction and part non-fiction. I don’t remember how this person came up, but my ex-partner and I were talking/gossiping like most couples do and she was telling me about a “stud” that lived the same lifestyle as Cream. The little bit that I learned made me want to give her a story. I didn’t know this person myself so I had to fill in the blanks. Literally, all I had to go on was a dancer who danced for both men and women because she was “about her money.

The gist I took away from Cream is that sexuality can’t be defined by roles or labels. Was that your message?
That was definitely one, the biggest one. Roles seem to be a big deal in our community when they really shouldn’t be. If people can read about Cream and accept her the way that she was, then they can accept anyone.

Will you continue Cream’s story?
I thought about it, but if I did that, I’d have to continue so many others. I couldn’t stand the pressure

What’s next for Christiana Harrell?
At the moment, I’m working on the second stud in the “Stud Life Series.” Her name is Magic. There are three others that have to come after her. That should keep me busy for the next two years or so. Hopefully, one of them will get an award. I won’t complain.

Cream was a finalist for a Lambda Literary Award in the Lesbian General Fiction category. Congratulations! How did it feel to be finalist?
Aw man. I literally almost fell out of my chair. The day that I submitted the novel, I honestly did not expect to hear anything back. You’d be surprised how much I doubt myself. Being a finalist definitely gave me confidence, but now I have to top Cream and I’m not sure that’s possible. Either way, I’m happy and humbled for the experience.

Want to know more about Christiana Harrell? Read her Sistahs on the Shelf interview A Sistahs Favorite Things interview.

About Christiana Harrell

christianaharrell

“I write about heterosexuals, I write about lesbians, I write about transgenders… I write about people.”

Christiana Harrell is a 27-year-old writer from New Orleans, LA., that got her start in writing at six-years-old. She published her first title Girl: a Story for Every Les Being in 2009. She currently has more than 10 titles to her name. She is currently working on her next novel.


Book Blogger Test

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bookbloggertestI saw this tag on This Girl Reads A Lot and thought it would be fun to do. I’m supposed to tag five people, but I’d rather tag anyone who wants to do it. Comment below if you did this survey and where I can find it.

What are your top three book pet peeves/hates?
Not knowing what a character looks like. I can’t stand it when an author doesn’t offer a physical description of her characters. How can I get into the story when I can’t picture who’s telling the story?

Wishy-washy characters. Characters who can’t make up their mind for no reason at all except to add unnecessary drama to the story.

Falling back on stereotypes. When a character’s behavior is explained because she’s a certain type of person. Not all black people think alike; not all studs or femmes think alike, so characters that follow the same mold frustrate me.

Describe your perfect reading spot.
*sigh* In my bed. But I also love the outdoors, as long it’s not too hot.

Tell us 3 book confessions.

  1. I need Skyy to make another book in the Choices series. I can’t imagine Denise, Cooley and Carmen not having another story.
  2. I wish I had met E. Lynn Harris. I’ve heard from people who’ve met him that he’s a beautiful soul, and I only wish I could have had him sign my copy of Invisible Life and maybe chatted a bit.
  3. Love stories are what I truly enjoy the most, but sometimes I wish our black lesbian authors would step out the box a bit. We’re more than being in a relationship.

When was the last time you cried at a book?
I can’t exactly recall the last time I cried at a book, maybe A Walk to Remember by Nicholas Sparks. That was a sad book.

How many books are on your bedside table?
None. I keep the book I’m currently reading in the bed with me which would be: Niya 2 by Fabiola Joseph. I also have my Kindle and Nook.

What is your favorite snack whilst reading?
Chips, chocolate, water, ice (to crunch).

Show us your favorite bookshelf on your bookcase.
This one is my favorite because it has E. Lynn Harris, James Earl Hardy, and A.S. King (Ask the Passengers).

favbookshelf

Write how much books mean to you in three words.
Love beyond measure.

What is your biggest reading secret?
I have well over 700 unread books. *gasp*

Let me know if you do this tag!


Happiness, Like Water by Chinelo Okaparanta

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happinesslikewaterPublisher/Date:  Mariner Books, Aug. 2013
Genre(s):  Short Story, Love, Family, Religion, Women’s Issues
Pages:  208
Website:  www.marinerbooks.com

[xxr rating=5/5]

When I picked up HAPPINESS, LIKE WATER by Chinelo Okparanta, I saw it profound that I was drawn to this book about girls and women in Nigeria, the same country where almost 300 girls were stolen from their dormitory in April, only to be sold as chattel or hidden away. In Okparanta’s short story collection, her characters wrestle with their own issues of love, faith, and sorrow. Happiness grabbed me at the first couple of pages, and I couldn’t stop reading – and thinking – about a woman’s worth.

Set in a land with lush landscapes and sweltering days, the women’s plights – from coveting a lighter skin color, to falling in love with the same sex – are captured in heartbreaking detail. It deftly embodies what lengths women would go through to have what they believe is happiness.

Lambda-Medal2014

2014 Lambda Literary Award WinnerFrom http://www.lambdaliterary.org

Highlights include “Grace,” surrounding a religion professor with an inquisitive student posing questions about sexuality and the Bible, with both eventually discovering the tough answers lead to each other; “Runs Girl” featuring a young woman who learns there is a price to doing the right thing for the right reasons; and the unreliable narration of “Story, Story!” drew me in to a woman’s despiration to have a baby.

Yet by far, my favorite story from Happiness is “Tumours and Butterflies,” which drew me into the tumultuous relationship between a daughter and father so focused on his child’s missteps he fails to see his own. There’s a loss of innocence one has, even as an adult, when you realize your parents are toxic to your well-being. Okparanta portrays this feeling well.

What Okparanta also does well is convey the realities of Nigerian women and families in America. Okparanta, a Nigerian immigrant to the U.S. at the age of 10, allows us to see how the United States is treated as a promise land of sorts in her native country, where dreams can be fulfilled.

After reading Happiness, Like Water, I can see exactly why Okparanta won a 2014 Lambda Literary Award just a few nights ago because I was enamored with her writing. The way she turns a phrase, even when a story takes a sad turn, is comforting. The lesbian stories are handled with care, providing some of the happier moments. Happiness envelopes you into the life of the characters, who have experiences that could shared by any woman in any country, but are more sentimental to Black women in particular. But the sadness is truly palpable in Happiness. There were only couple of stories I felt had an abrupt ending, but it didn’t take away from the strength or authenticity of Okparanta’s voice.

Review Scale
Plot
4.5 Stars
Writing
5 Stars
Characters
5 Stars
Pacing
4.5 Stars
That Oomph!
5 Stars
Overall: 5 Stars

Reviewed June 2014

About Chinelo Okparanta

chinelookparanta

Chinelo Okparanta was born in Port-Harcourt, Nigeria, and was raised there as a Jehovah’s Witness. When she was ten, her family relocated to the United States. She received her BS from The Pennsylvania State University, her MA from Rutgers University, and her MFA from the University of Iowa. She has worked as a middle and high school French and English Language teacher, and an undergraduate writing teacher. She is one of Granta’s six New Voices for 2012 and has stories forthcoming from Conjunctions, Subtropics, and elsewhere.


Books 2 Check Out – May 2014

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Looking for something new to read? Here’s a round-up of a few novels you should check out (the titles are linked to Amazon, but most are available for purchase at Barnes & Noble, as well):

Get At Me by K.A. Smith

Fatima is at the community center to paint murals. She’s hoping to get in, get out, and get paid. But the charismatic C.J. is one distraction she’s not prepared for. Frustrated and off her game, Fatima realizes C.J. may have more to offer than a player’s status.

How Can An Angel Take My Heart? Part II, The Armanèe by Regina Knox

Life could not be better for Kennedy Arman-Brooks-O’Neal, one of the richest and most powerful women on the eastern seaboard. She is a multi-multi millionaire with a husband who loves her and three beautiful children. Kennedy is whole and complete-mentally, physically, and spiritually-but is everything as neatly tied together as it seems? It is a beautiful Fourth of July weekend; Kennedy is celebrating her wedding anniversary and birthday with her adoring husband, Robert. Suddenly, a chance encounter with a couple making out on the beach changes her life forever. Events of her past and a secret she holds from not so long ago flood her mind with memories of a different life, from a different time, with a different love… Angela. She is at the height of her musical career. The soulful sounds of Angela Renèe electrify the island of Maui, Hawaii-her first U.S. concert tour in years is a huge success… On the heels of a European tour, Angela Renèe returns to the states to find herself on the brink of bankruptcy. Someone has stolen millions of dollars from her. Checks are bouncing as the tabloids document her every move on the decadent playgrounds of Europe’s club scene. Sinking in a sea of lies and deceit, Angela harbors her own secret that threatens to destroy not only her life, but the lives of her children and everyone she holds dear. In a fight for her survival, Angela is forced to reconnect with one whose love for her she thought would never end… Kennedy and Angela. Two women thrust back into each other’s lives through a series of events that eventually lead to a climactic struggle for the possession of their very souls… How Can an Angel Take My Heart, Part II, The Armanèe, is a compelling story of love, betrayal, salvation, and redemption. Will Kennedy and Angela ultimately survive the journey through their past, or will the past destroy their present, as it forever alters their future? Read the 4.5 star review of the first book in the series, How Can an Angel Take My Heart?

Les Tales: Tempted to Touch by Skyy, Nikki Rashan, Fiona Zedde

Temple is the epitome of a true fangirl. Since childhood she has idolized her favorite actress, Ursula Moore. She is stoked to find out that Ursula will be a guest at the Atlanta convention she’s attending with fellow fangirl friends Cree and Nia. When Temple’s girlfriend attempts to ruin her weekend, the only thing that can turn it around is meeting Ursula. To her surprise, more savory options than getting an autograph are presented. Temple has to decide if she is going to stay a devoted fan, or cross the line and find out what it’s like to sleep with her favorite celebrity.

Taryn’s and Nina’s lives unite in an intense and fiery connection through their one common link: Layne, the woman they both loved. Taryn, a reserved wife, is unaware of her own astounding beauty and lurking alter ego. Nina is Layne’s tempting mistress. Together their damaged hearts challenge the unacceptable and cross boundaries into a disturbing affair that pushes the limits of erotic gratification and exploration. Their stormy battles are not only fought against one another, but also within. Secrets are exposed, hidden agendas are revealed, and the line to the forbidden is erased.

Chloe has always had a crush on Kai, her mother’s best friend. She hoped that once she went away to college, her desire would also go away; but upon returning home after years of being gone, she finds that her attraction to Kai is stronger than ever. When she runs into Kai at a local fairground, the sparks fly between the two women in a way that cannot be ignored. Chloe becomes determined to seduce Kai, vowing to have the older woman, no matter the cost.

A Lesbian in God’s House by Phenomenon

Taurus, an aggressive lesbian from Chicago, has experienced so much shameful drama in her past. After losing a relationship with her mother and father over her last girlfriend’s scandalous behavior, Taurus retreated into the Word of God. She found herself falling for another woman that loved God just as much as she did. In spite of the church telling her that God didn’t want to hear her prayers, she kept talking and one day…God started speaking back.

With two sets of twisted parents, two cities full of hateful so called Christians, the most flamboyant gay community in the Midwest and one ride or die woman that would walk through hell and back for her, Taurus and her beautiful new love interest turned the church upside down with their radical obedience and directions from a God that made all the rules.

How strong is your faith? Could you obey a clear request from God in a room full of hate and say the things that might make the front page of Yahoo? Can you trust him enough to enter into a situation that may get you killed? Read as God chooses the most unexpected messengers to expose the false prophets and helps save the souls of millions in the gay community by teaching that regardless of who you love, God loves you just the way you are! Find out what happened to a lesbian in God’s house.

Niya 2: Dreamer’s Paradise (The Dreamers) by Fabiola Joseph

Love, true love, is the ruler of all things. Once you have acquired a taste for it… nothing else will ever satisfy your palate or taste the same.

Niya has already proven that she would kill for Jamilla, which should make their bond unbreakable. But when the dopamine fades and she is faced with her own demons, rescuing Jamilla from her problems just won’t be enough to fill the void she has always felt within. What will happen when family issues, fame and reality sets in? How will Niya deal with a Hip-Hop career as she tries to repair her broken family? Signing to Green Note Records just may bring fulfillment and love when the sexy R&B diva, Brazil Noelle, swoops in and aims for her heart.

Jamilla is filled with so many mixed emotions that at times, she feels as if she will lose her mind. Her love for Niya is real, and knowing that, gives her just as much comfort as the writing career she chases. Yet, Jamilla is still battling with the fact that Niya is a girl. Will her fling with a male “straighten” her out for good? Or will it help her to realize that love has no boundaries? Either way, a decision must be made.

Join the tormented twosome on an undeniable thrill ride through dreamer’s paradise, as they travel down the rocky road of self-discovery. Niya and Jamilla will combat their fears, distractions, love, denial, family, and sometimes each other, in the emotionally charged and action packed sequel to Niya 1: Rainbow Dreams.

With so many warriors fighting the battle of love… Only one will win the war of hearts.

Sacred Fire by by Tanai Walker

Tinsley Swann is cursed to change into a beast for seven days, every seven years. She keeps her distance from the world, and has more of a relationship with the antique erotic postcards she collects. With the time of her transformation approaching, she finds herself torn between two women. One woman is Sandra, Tinsley’s new boss, and the two are having an affair. Sandra glimpses her transformation and is kind, not frightened. The other woman, Leda, bears a striking resemblance to one of Tinsley’s turn of the century postcards, and she becomes obsessed with the young woman. Tinsley must choose between these two women and ultimately two factions, one that will save the world, the other with plans to destroy it.

That’s The Way Love Goes by GStarr

Only in a perfect world could a couple that has run its course of love co-exist under the same roof.

That’s The Way Love Goes invites you to the relationships of Shayla, Jamie and Yanna, whose lives intertwine through sex, love and greed with a vengeance.

In the irony of “heat of passion” and “by any means necessary”, this page turner will take you for a roller coaster ride of emotions.

GStarr gives a twist to the meaning “Happily Never After”!


Maxi’s Place: Volume One by Literary Stud

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maxisplacevol1Publisher/Date: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, Apr. 2014
Genre(s): Romance
Pages: 128
Website:  http://www.literarystud.com

Rating: ★★★★☆ 

MAXI’S PLACE (VOL. 1), a bind-up of three previously published serial e-books by Literary Stud, is mixture of love, secrets and heartbreak simmering in one spot.

Yes, just like her tagline says, the popular hangout for the Dallas lesbian crowd features “good food, good music and great drama.” But the good thing is that the drama is not over-the-top, just enough to give fantastic character development and a sense that the next volume will promise better things.

Last year, I reviewed both Rumors Ring True (Part 1) and It’s Complicated (Part 2), and found both to be engaging.

Part 1 titled Rumors Ring True mostly surrounds hostess Ava and saxophonist Bailey discreetly flirting with each other while suppressing their mutual attraction, both wary to begin a workplace romance because of prying eyes and ears. Not to mention Maxi’s Place owner Cole wants to keep her establishment drama-free – which means no employee fraternizing.

Speaking of Cole, It’s Complicated (Part 2) allows readers a glimpse at the woman who knows how to run a restaurant like a well-oiled machine – and her office like a sexual revolving door. Under Cole’s management, every employee knows their role except head chef Tasha, the only one who can dish flak (and her favorite sandwich) to Cole without consequences because they have a genuine friendship that goes beyond the doors Maxi’s Place. It also acquaints us with bartender Logan and the beautiful nightmares that haunt her after her shift is over.

In the most recent installment, The Lies We Tell (Part 3), readers get a real tour of a night a Maxi’s Place. Ava and Bailey are still in the mix, Cole and Tasha find themselves at odds and Logan is trying to get her life back on track. I won’t say anything more because it’ll give away the book’s progression, but just know that Part 3 is the best of the series.

With five strong characters, Literary Stud moves from good, to great to excellent as each installment progresses. The story is stronger, as well. Where there was too much of Ava and Bailey in the beginning, everything smooths itself out, and everyone gets equal time. Maxi’s Place (Volume 1) is a good showcase of Literary Stud’s talent, and I would love to see what she would do with a full-length novel.

Review Scale
Plot
4 Stars
Writing
4 Stars
Characters
5 Stars
Pacing
4 Stars
That Oomph!
4.5 Stars
Overall: 4 Stars

Reviewed April 2014

About Literary Stud

literarystud

Born in the heart of Dallas, Texas, Literary Stud discovered her love of writing from an early age. Although life gets in the way from time to time, the passion of creating realistic characters and weaving attention grabbing plots drives Literary Stud to continue to perfect her craft.

A proud nerd, Literary Stud enjoys true reality television, anything Mafia related and is an avid watcher of The History Channel, Investigation Discovery and a host of other channels that educate as well as entertain. However, she is addicted to the Dallas Cowboys and the Dallas Mavericks. During their seasons, she is known for screaming at the television and having sporadic fits while watching games.


Sweat: Chapter One (A Lesbian Soap Opera) by LezIntellect

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Publisher/Date:  Amazon Digital Services, Inc., Feb. 2014
Genre(s):  Romance, Drama
Pages:  22 (e-book short)
Website:  http://diaryofablacklesbian.blogspot.com

Rating: ★★★½☆ 

The Plot:  SWEAT: CHAPTER ONE introduces twins Odessa, a womanizing, prodigal daughter of sorts and Olivia, the responsible older sister (by two minutes) who’s been running their father’s successful hair care empire while Odessa is away in the Big Apple. She’s returned home to her family’s sprawling home and decides as usual she wants what she wants without a thought to what’s been happening while she’s gone. If she had only made a phone call or two, she would have discovered that Olivia has been taking care of things just fine in Atlanta.

The Good:  Author LezIntellect makes it clear this first installment of Sweat is just the beginning. She has way more in mind for her characters; she promises Chapter Two will bring someone “dynamic.” She also knows a thing or two about how to write a descriptive setting and how to give her characters great backstories (even if we don’t know everything just yet), which makes me captived with Odessa and Olivia. And I love the cover artwork.

The Not-So-Good:  Sweat‘s sentence structures can be a little redundant, but I have a (kind of) bigger issue. The thing about soap operas: every time you get closer to the truth, in comes a commercial. That’s how I felt when I got to the end of Sweat. Waiting chapter by chapter is going to be the death of me. *cue death music* *cut to commercial*

The Bottom Line:  I have to know what happens next. I guess there’s a reason LezIntellect calls it Sweat.

Review Scale
Plot
3.5 Stars
Writing
4 Stars
Characters
4 Stars
Pacing
3 Stars
That Oomph!
4 Stars
Overall: 3.5 Stars

Reviewed April 2014

About LezIntellect

lezintellect

LezIntellect is the woman behind Diary of a Black Lesbian, a oft-posted blog about life, love, and the occasional rant. There she describes herself as “a young, sexy, African American feminine tomboy living, breathing, and loving women in ATLANTA, GA.”

LezIntellect is the author Sweat: Chapter One (A Lesbian Soap Opera) presented in chapter form. She also penned Diary Of A Black Lesbian Uncensored Vol. One. She’s currently working on Sweat‘s second chapter.


Books 2 Check Out – April 2014

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Looking for something new to read? Here’s a round-up of a few novels you should check out (the titles are linked to Amazon, but most are available for purchase at Barnes & Noble, as well):

The Girl With the Treasure Chest by V.A. Fearon

Dani Fenton thought her life was sorted. But when her private and professional lives collide, she is forced to walk a dangerous line and risk everything for love. At home Dani has a loving partner with a young child who adores her. At work she is a powerful broker in London’s vicious gangland, where she uses her influence to negotiate deals between rival gangs at underground “meets”. Her intuition has never failed her and her charisma has attracted a loyal band of “soldiers” who would go to any lengths to please her. Life is good until Susanna returns. Enigmatic, sexual, hot-tempered and fragile, Susanna is irresistible to Dani, who soon finds herself in a spiral of obsession and violence that threatens to devastate every aspect of her life. Dani must choose between the love she has and the love she wants, and she knows the wrong decision could prove fatal.

Maxi’s Place (Volume 1) by Literary Stud

Sooner or later, everyone slides through Maxi’s Place. Good food, good music and good company are the ingredients for an unforgettable night. The atmosphere infuses the soul with jazz, and conjures up a grown and sexy crowd. Come in and have a drink with a friend or lover. An unforgettable experience awaits the hungry patron from the delectable menu to the talented musicians who grace the stage. If only the customers knew what happened in the background of this bustling restaurant – drama, deceit and maybe a little love. (This is a bind-up of Parts 1-3 of the Maxi’s Place series.)

The Rules by S. Renee Bess

Blackmail, murder, missing persons, and hidden identities link lives that otherwise, would have remained unconnected.

London Phillips’ suburban black middle class background has made her vulnerable to the alienation she feels as she tap dances between the expectations she holds for herself and the expectations other people impose upon her. A full-time realtor and part-time writer, London encounters frustration when she tries to contact Milagros Farrow, a revered lesbian author whose work London would like to include in an anthology she’s compiling. Milagros has disappeared from the face of the earth.

Rand Carson is a prominent newspaper journalist who is forced to deal with the sudden loss of her financial security and the dissolution of her long term interracial relationship with Willa. Rand seems compelled to pursue London, although it’s possible she’s more attracted to London’s ethnicity than to London herself.

Candace Dickerson, a corporate event planner, is married to avarice. In order to chase a more lucrative future, Candace has abandoned her lover, Lenah and Lenah’s perceived lack of ambition. She’s moved into the city where she executes a plot designed to augment her earnings with other people’s money.

Lenah Miller is content with her job at a local hospital’s Emergency Department. For reasons known only to her, she distrusts women she considers too ambitious or from different social strata. Steeped in cynicism and memories held in secret, Lenah finds it easier to criticize a woman whose gentle nature differs from hers than to accept their differences.

The threads entwined around London’s desire to connect with a kindred spirit, Lenah’s wary skepticism, Rand’s inappropriate ardor, and Candace’s greed come undone when three people fall victim to blackmail, one reappears, and another succumbs to murder.

When She Says Yes by Fiona Zedde

The provocative women from Fiona Zedde’s imagination are at it again. From the sultry beaches of Jamaica to the palace of a Tanzanian queen then all the way to the exclusive playroom of one of the hottest women in Miami, When She Says Yes takes the reader on a sensual journey guaranteed to inspire a different kind of wanderlust. Between these pages, an artist falls in love with Zora Neale Hurston. Two lovers reunite in Jamaica after nearly a lifetime apart. A sexually restrained woman finally gets the chance to meet the seductress she has been lusting after from afar. A chief’s beautiful daughter is forced to marry for rain. The women in this collection of stories love each other passionately, diving into the heart of obsession, desire, and obligation while pulling the reader along for the wild ride.

Yabo by Alexis De Veaux

Fiction. African American Studies. LGBT Studies. Women’s Studies. “See YABO… like a Mingus composition: Pentecostal, blues-inflected, full of wit and that deep literacy of the black diaspora. The present, the past, the uncertain future collapse upon themselves in this narrative of place/s. Our dead move with us: behind us, above us, confronting us—in Manhattan; Asheville (N.C.); Buffalo, NY; Jamaica; the hold of a funky slave ship; crossing and bending lines between genders, sexualities, longing and geographies. Time is a river endlessly coursing, shallow in many places, deep for long miles, and, finally, deadly as the hurricane that engulfs and destroys the slave vessel, ‘Henrietta Marie.’ YABO calls our ghosts back and holds us accountable for memory.”—Cheryl Clarke


Girls Just Don’t Do That Contest

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newgirlsjustdontdothatGirls Just Don’t Do That by Natalie Simone is one of those books that grabbed me the first page. Published in 2009, the college-themed love story is filled with characters that I would have hung out with in my 20s (and probably did). Simone also nailed the stud/femme dynamic to a tee. (Read the Sistahs on the Shelf review of Girls.)

In 2014, Girls Just Don’t Do That has gotten a facelift, and is now the first book in the newly-minted CRAVE trilogy. Three Degrees of Separation, the second book, will be available in May, featuring a now out-of-college Jayne and a new circle of women.

In anticipation of her newest book in the CRAVE trilogy, Natalie Simone would like to bestow 5 lucky winners an autographed copy of her book, Girls Just Don’t Do That! To enter, please fill out the form below.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

In the meantime, watch Simone’s video preview of Girls Just Don’t Do That.


K-Rho: The Sweet Taste of Sisterhood by La Toya Hankins

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k-rhosweetteastePublisher/Date:  Resolute Publishing, Nov. 2013
Genre(s):  Friendship, Romance, Sorority
Pages:  236
Website:  http://www.latoyahankins.com

Rating: ★★★★☆ 

First things first, can we just admire the beauty that is this book cover? Gorgeous.

With that done, let’s get down to the beauty that’s in La Toya Hankins’s newest novel, K-RHO: THE SWEET TASTE OF SISTERHOOD. Hankins, the author of SBF Seeking, has done it again, creating a moving story about an unbreakable bond between sorority sisters pledging Kappa Alpha Rho.

The premise is simple, but the enduring friendship is anything but. It’s a kinship built amongst three diverse Copper Road University sophomores who on the surface don’t have much in common, who probably wouldn’t have even been friends otherwise, but connect from enduring on the same line, commiserating their relationships, and growing through their college experiences in the 1990s and adulthood 10 years later.

And to think it all began by an invitation in a heavy purple linen envelope one cold February evening. From that first interest meeting, Kiara, Gloria and Donna clicked and became inseparable.

The anchor of the group is Kiara, a legacy considered a shoo-in to be a K-Rho swan. Practically groomed for membership since birth, the business major knows all the answers and passes all the trials with flying purple and platinum colors, but she harbors a secret that could end her bid for joining the sisterhood. They don’t know her lover Chris is a she – not a he – and Kiara questions whether they would accept her otherwise.

Gloria, the liberated brainiac, always has a saying, a random fact, or a long-winded explanation as the voice of reason between the trio. On full scholarship and living in the honors dorm, she’s cerebral but down-to-earth and open to more experiences than the other two girls, including being down with the swirl. Beneath that adventurous attitude lies a woman who wants to be stepped to the right way. She doesn’t settle – and her high standards could be her downfall.

Now, Donna…this girl, the daughter of a deaconess and a Marine, won my heart. She’s the sister that could offer you with a Bible-quote in a heartbeat, but would beat your ass and ask questions last if you messed with her man. The curvy beauty lives (and fights) for Peter, who’s a player on and off the football field. As a strong as she appears to be, there’s a soft spot she has for Peter that even her sisters can’t seem to sway her from. And trust me, they’ve tried.

Crossing over, even with all that going on, was an accomplishment the girls held in high regard, and cemented their friendship through college and one tragic incident that set a slightly darker tone for the remainder of the book.

Ten years later, the girls are balancing relationships, children and careers. Kiara is still devoting her every waking hour to K-Rho at her partner’s expense; Gloria is tired of letting love find her – and of being alone. Donna is the most transformed, now a mother to Peter’s children and settled in domesticity.

This second half of K-Rho doesn’t hold as much fun as the beginning when they were fancy-free co-eds, enjoying Greek parties and gossiping about who was zooming who. However, I do think they become fuller, mature characters. I enjoyed their interactions with each other, mostly between Kiara and Donna, who are my favorite women in K-Rho. The “lesbian” and the “Bible-thumper” understood each other in ways that show best friends don’t have to do anything but love and accept each other for whom they are. Hankins shows this time and time again between Donna, Kiara, and Gloria.

I did have a couple of qualms about the night of the “incident,” in that I thought it was of out of character for one of the women to even be in that situation. I also kind of hoped Hankins would have delved into skin-color issues in African-American sorority life, but that’s just my wishful thinking.

Hankins, a Zeta Phi Beta member since undergrad, writes authentically in K-Rho. She exhibits talent in writing what the sorority experience is like, most especially as a lesbian in an alliance of women who may not always accept you – despite wearing the same colors.

But despite it all, Kiara, Gloria and Donna can’t be, won’t be stopped.

So at Hankin’s capable hands, sisterhood does taste quite good.

Review Scale
Plot
4 Stars
Writing
4.5 Stars
Characters
4 Stars
Pacing
3.5 Stars
That Oomph!
4 Stars
Overall: 4 Stars

Reviewed March 2014

About La Toya Hankins

latoyahankinsnew

La Toya Hankins is a native of North Carolina and currently resides in Raleigh, NC. A graduate of East Carolina University in Greenville, NC, she earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in journalism with a minor in political science. During her college career, she became a member of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Inc. and later served as second vice president for one of the largest graduate chapters in North Carolina.

After working as a regional reporter and features editor in the Charlotte metro area for seven years, La Toya entered the world of banking, where she worked for the fifth largest bank in the country. Presently employed with the State of North Carolina, she divides her time between being a proud pet parent of a terrier named Neo and volunteering in the community.

Currently serving as the chair of Shades of Pride, organizer of the annual Triangle Black Pride, La Toya is an active supporter of LGBT issues and health disparities that affect her community. Her literary influences and loves include Zora Neale Hurston, Walter Mosley, Anne Rice, and Pearl Cleage. Her motto, borrowed from Hurston, is “I do not weep at the world, I am too busy sharpening my oyster knife.”

La Toya is the author of SBF Seeking and K-Rho: The Sweet Taste of Sisterhood.


Tastes Like Cherry by Renee Cronin

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tasteslikecherryPublisher/Date:  CreateSpace, Dec. 2013
Genre(s):  Romance
Pages: 228
Website:  https://www.facebook.com/Renee.Cronin78

Rating: ★★★★½ 

*cues Vivian Green’s Emotional Rollercoaster as background music*

Who can resist heartfelt apologies, declarations of undying love, and spine-tingling sex? Certainly not Sherry “Cherry” Milton, star of Renee Cronin’s TASTES LIKE CHERRY.

Her ex-fiancé, Anya Prye, is pulling out all the stops to win her back.

But six months ago, Cherry was blindsided by Anya’s admission that things were moving too fast – four months before they were scheduled to be married. After two years, she knew their relationship was headed to for better or worse, and the worst happened: Anya became the stud she had to get over.

Fast forward to present day, and 27-year-old Cherry is almost whole. Yet with one one out of the blue phone call comes Anya confessing her mistake in leaving Cherry. She’s back in Boston determined to assuage the pain left by her abrupt departure, and will do anything to have Cherry as her wife.

Told in the lovers’ alternating voices, this is where Tastes Like Cherry becomes a merry-go-round of emotion. I’ll say this: some women might be flattered by an ex stealing her heart again, especially if the torch was never really extinguished between them. She’s the one who never faded completely from that woman’s heart, continuing to be at home in those crevices and cracks. For Cherry, even with anger still brimming, Anya is that woman.

And Anya knows what she lost. Cherry is a catch. The criminal justice professor woos and works Cherry’s body like no one else, as proven by the stirring encounters Cronin writes with sensuous strokes. But Anya suffers from the “water runs dry” syndrome, and Cherry has to decide whether love can truly be rekindled with someone who broke your spirit in a million pieces.

And it’s not as if Cherry doesn’t have other options or distractions. There’s a co-worker whom she finds adorable, and a night out with homegirls gives her the chance to meet a couple of promising new love interests. Her work as a clinician gives her life meaning. And her friends provide her laughs and opportunities to dance all night, one of Cherry’s favorite hobbies.

Just like Cherry, though, I got caught up in Anya’s admissions of guilt. Every love scene had me rooting for a happy ever after, and every tear they shed made me second guess whether these two can make it last.

I really enjoyed both Cherry and Anya as realistic characters in a typical romantic quandry. While some subplots weren’t tied up enough for me, Cronin has a fresh voice as a writer, and when her sequel to Tastes Like Cherry arrives, I’ll want to see where Cherry and Anya go from here.

Review Scale
Plot
4 Stars
Writing
4.5 Stars
Characters
5 Stars
Pacing
4 Stars
That Oomph!
5 Stars
Overall: 4.5 Stars

Reviewed March 2014

About Renee Cronin

reneecronin

Renee Cronin, a self described avid reader and life time resident of Boston, Massachusetts began penning her debut novel, Tastes Like Cherry in 2005. As a child protective social worker and clinician, Renee has used writing as a personal outlet, but only recently began to explore the possibility of publication. Renee’s inspiration to pen and publish such a compelling story comes from a overwhelming display of support from family and friends. Renee’s debut novel Tastes Like Cherry is expected to keep her readers captivated and pining for more. Renee is currently working on several short stories and anticipates the release of an anthology as well as a sequel to Tastes Like Cherry in the very near future.


Between Right and Wrong by S. Stephens

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betweenrightandwrongPublisher/Date:  Outskirts Press, Sept. 2013
Genre(s):  Romance, Family, Friends
Pages:  360
Website:  http://www.authorsstephens.com

Rating: ★★★★☆ 

When I first read S. Stephens Am I My Sister’s Keeper in 2005, like Elise, I was going through my own coming out conundrum. I was gay, living with my parents, and taking shelter in my closet. So Elise’s story – attempting to please her parents while struggling with her sexuality – spoke to me in a lot of ways.

Now, eight years later, both Elise and I have faced our demons, but in BETWEEN RIGHT AND WRONG, Elise is still taking on the woes of her family and friends. She allows her sister Lynn to live in her spacious Miami home to get her life in order; provides the always sympathetic ear to best friend, Carmen, a skyrocketing recording artist; and fights to keep her guy pal Wade sane while he goes through some pretty serious legal issues.

At the same time, Elise’s love life is just as hectic, as she falls back in stride with ex Symphony (her biggest hurdle in the previous novel) and cultivates a fling with an extremely sexy older woman, not to mention the simmering feelings she has for married friend Monica, whose unconditional love held Elise’s through every traumatic event.

With all this love in her life, as well as a successful career in high-end real estate, it would appear her life is flawless at 32. Yet here’s Elise’s biggest issue: Elise will do anything for the people she loves, but it always seems to be at the expense of finding romantic love. In Wrong, I saw Elise fluctuate from crisis to crisis, from woman to woman, and it’s so clear that she can’t trust her heart with anyone. I love that she’s so committed to her family, both immediate and extended, but she hides behind them to escape the love she knows she deserves. I found Elise’s life full but slightly dizzying.

The strength of Wrong is in its cast of characters. I really got to know her extended family all over again, and their loyalty to Elise is commendable. What I love most about them is that they will always tell Elise is the truth, even when headstrong Elise doesn’t want to hear it, because that’s what family does. And each character’s romantic woes – reexamining one’s sexuality, sacrificing one’s to get ahead careerwise – is another fire for Elise to put out, which is a huge chunk of Wrong‘s plot. It also moves the book along to a dramatic finish.

Can I say Elise James has grown in the eight years since Sister’s Keeper? I think she knows what love is – she sees it in all forms in Wrong –  yet making it happen and making decisions about who’s best for her aren’t her strongest suits. And even with her devotion to everyone else, she always looks out for self. Nothing wrong with that, per se, but best friend Carmen hit the nail on the head when she told Elise, “There’s this person in you that walks on water, then there’s this other person in you that can move like a snake. Sometimes I don’t think you know right from wrong.” She’s not perfect – no one is.

Somehow I think Elise will get it together, though. Either that or I’m expecting another novel from Ms. Stephens.

Review Scale
Plot
3.5 Stars
Writing
3.5 Stars
Characters
4 Stars
Pacing
4 Stars
That Oomph!
4 Stars
Overall: 4 Stars

 Reviewed Month 2014

About S. Stephens

sstephensnew

Originally from Miami, S. Stephens now resides with her spouse and daughter in Northern Virginia. She enjoys the challenges of creativity and attention to detail. Between Right and Wrong is her long awaited sequel to Am I My Sister’s Keeper?


Living as a Lesbian by Cheryl Clarke (Feb. 2014 Pick of the Month)

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Publisher/Date:  A Midsummer Night’s Press, Jan. 2014
Genre(s):  Poetry, Politics, Sexuality
Pages:  152
Website:  http://www.sinisterwisdom.org

Rating: ★★★★☆ 

LIVING AS A LESBIAN is a book right wingers warn you about. About riots and clits and pride in being black and lesbian, Living takes these subjects, infusing them with her observations and insight, pouring a wickedly-worded brew that wakes up your senses.

To read Living is to know Cheryl Clarke. Born in 1946, this poet, educator, essayist, feminist and activist was raised in segregated Washington, D.C. where she became captivated by words, learned deprecating humor from her mother, father and aunt, and spent time spying on grown folks conversations. Clarke saw and felt the turbulence of the 1960s, especially the violent outcome following the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., a disturbance that haunts her still to this day. This unjust world nurtured her poetry beginnings, especially when she was an English major at Howard University from 1965 to 1969. Her Chocolate city education – followed by a Masters and Ph.D. from Rutgers University, where she later retired after 41 years as a professor – is what lead her to become the rebel she is, even to this day.

This realization of Clarke is integral to reading Living. It frames the words you’ll find inside: metaphors draped in turquoise, descriptions of dirty politics and provocative sex, jazz riffs that carried Clarke into adulthood.

When I was approached to review Living, I was told it was a reprint of the book originally published in 1986. In saying yes to this review, I was slightly intimidated. Clarke is one of our living legends, a woman who has written influential essays and pronounced her lesbianism proudly and apologetically. She doesn’t mince words, but instead asserts her own capabilities as a black gay woman. In Living, Clarke poetry reflects this strength and her considerable knowledge of the world through her black lens.

Unfortunately, almost 30 years later, Living still has resonance. The police brutality Clarke refers to in “Miami: 1980″, still as relevant with our black men being gunned down by crooked cops, mostly recently with recent FAMU grad Jonathan Ferrell last year in North Carolina. The unadorned passion Clarke shows to her woman in “Kittantiny”, can be found in our own bedrooms. The same white privilege Clarke denounces in “we are everywhere” now shows up in racially inappropriate social media posts and half-assed apologies (I’m looking at you, Madonna). When blacks are increasingly undervalued, Clarke told you that back then with “urban gothic”.

And poor people
black, purple, umber, burgundy, yellow,
red, olive, and tan people.
In neat-pressed vines.
On crutches.
In drag.
With child and children.
Dissidents, misfits, malcontents, and marginals
serving out our sentences on the streets of
America
spread-eagled against walls and over car hoods.
Frantic
like rats in a maze
an experiment in living
down at the jail,
the courthouse on the highway.

I think it should be said that Clarke’s Living as a Lesbian can be complex, daunting almost. It’s not a quick read, and it should definitely be consumed with plenty of thought and afterthought. Some of her references are from a different time, but the reprint of Living does include Clarke’s notes that fill in the gaps, for the generations that might not understand her references. It’s as if Clarke is a godmother of sorts, passing along the history that she’s seen and overheard and lived, and that is worth the challenge Living presents.

Reviewed February 2014

About Cheryl Clarke

cherylclarke1

Cheryl Clarke is a poet, essayist, scholar, and activist. She is the author of four collections of poetry: Narratives: Poems in the Tradition of Black Women (originally self-published in 1981 and distributed by Kitchen Table: Women of Color Press in 1982); and for Firebrand Books Living as a Lesbian (1986), Humid Pitch (1989) and Experimental Love (1993). Her most recent books are the critical study, After Mecca: Women Poets and the Black Arts Movement (Rutgers University Press, 2004), and The Days of Good Looks: The Prose and Poetry of Cheryl Clarke 1980-2005 (Carroll and Graf, 2006). She is the recipient of the 2013 Kessler Award from the Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies (CLAGS) at the City University of New York. Clarke played June Walker in the 1996 feature film The Watermelon Woman directed by Cheryl Dunye. She lives and writes in Jersey City, NJ and Hobart, NY. She and her lover, Barbara Balliet, co-own a used and rare bookstore in Hobart, N.Y., the Book Village of the Catskills.


Who is First Lady Wanda Davis? (Book 1: Greater Harvest Saga) by Michael Drain

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whoisfirstladywandadavisPublisher:  CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, Dec. 2013
Genre(s):  Religious, Romance, Coming Out
Pages:  114
Website:  http://www.browninkentertainment.com

Rating: ★★★½☆ 

Wife. Mentor. Friend. Shopaholic.

In WHO IS FIRST LADY WANDA DAVIS?, a story of the perfection it takes to be a pastor’s wife by Michael Drain, we’re introduced to all sides of Wanda, even the ones she tries to keep cleverly concealed.

Wanda Davis followed her husband, Howard, from their college days to the pulpit. In the years since his installation, she’s been the “perfect” pastor’s wife: steadfastly supportive of Howard’s mission, mindful of her words and actions, and helpful whenever needed. This dedication and her husband’s strong word ascend Greater Harvest Cathedral to megachurch status. Once a rock in the South Bend, Indiana community, the church is now in the wake of a scandal, and Howard thinks Wanda is a catalyst to getting the church back to its roots.

Yet Wanda is in the midst of her own spiritual storm.

Being a first lady doesn’t allow much room to be herself. Where she felt other wives in her position wielded their power in a greater capacity, Wanda felt stifled. She can’t speak her mind or tell what’s bothering her, lest she be judged. This pressure builds into an addiction she can’t shake: shopping. Hiding expensive clothes and thousands of dollars in mounting debt, Wanda’s compulsion may stem partly from her first lady pedestal, but it actually masks an even deeper craving: being with a woman.

As a pastor’s daughter, Wanda couldn’t reconcile her spiritual self with being a lesbian. After breaking it off with a female classmate in college, Howard was the man who accepted her as she was, and she saw him as her rock and deliverance.

Even when she didn’t see it, Howard has always believed in his wife and their relationship. He places Wanda front and center over the church’s women’s service during revival. Wanda, with her heavy heart, is not so convinced, especially when the occasion pairs her with an alluring event planner. How can she lead the women when she is so conflicted in her own soul?

The pastor’s wife element in Who is First Lady Wanda Davis?, the first in a series, adds something extra to Drain’s story, but I feel Wanda could be any woman confused in her sexuality and her love for God. Her turmoil in living up to the self-imposed standards of a first lady — and the behind-the-scenes church drama — are real to the black church. We do make it hard for our gay brothers and sisters, but what I found moving was how understanding Howard was to Wanda’s transition then and now as she figures out her life. Howard’s a good guy.

The book’s formatting could use work, and the sermons throughout are slightly repetitive, but Drain engages.

By the conclusion, I can tell something more sinister is coming in Wicked Harvest, Book 2 in The Greater Harvest Saga. I’ll be reading it.

Review Scale
Plot
3.5 Stars
Writing
3.5 Stars
Characters
4 Stars
Pacing
4 Stars
That Oomph!
3.5 Stars
Overall: 3.5 Stars

Reviewed February 2014

About Michael Drain

michaeldrain

Michael Drain is a married, social columnist for the LGBT magazine Rainbowaffairs.com. He is also the CEO of Brown Ink Entertainment, a company that specializes in LGBT an mainstream entertainment, i.e. stage productions, music, publications, media, graphics and artist representation. He is a graduate of Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis. Drain currently resides in Indianapolis, Indiana.

Drain, who wrote and directed the smash hit, My Revival!, is currently working on several stage plays and a follow up novel to Who is First Lady Wanda Davis? titled Wicked Harvest, set for a 2014 release.