It’s Black History Month. Read or Watch Something.

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It’s Black History Month, and I thought I’d share the women, books and stories from that should be devoured during the month of February.

Autobiography

Brown Girl Dreamingbrowngirldreaming 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. Winner of the zamiNewberry Honor Award

Zami: A New Spelling of My Name – A Biomythography by Audre Lorde
Zami: A New Spelling of My Name is a 1982 autobiography by African-American poet Audre Lorde. It started a new genre that the author calls biomythography. Zami is a fast-moving chronicle. From the author’s vivid childhood memories in Harlem to her coming of age in the late 1950s, the nature of Audre Lorde’s work is cyclical. It especially relates the linkage of women who have shaped her . . . Lorde brings into play her craft of lush description and characterization. It keeps unfolding page after page.

Compilations
Afrekete: An Anthology of Black Lesbian Writing
afrekete
edited by Catherine E. McKinley
Elegant, timely, provocative, and inspiring, the fiction, poetry, and nonfiction in Afrekete — written in a range of styles — engage a variety of highly topical themes, placing them at the center of literary and social discourse. Beginning with “Tar Beach,” an excerpt from Audre Lorde’s celebrated memoir Zami: A New Spelling of My Name, which introduces the character Afrekete, the collection also includes such prominent writers as Michelle Cliff, Carolivia Herron, Jewelle Gomez, and Alexis De Veaux. Other pieces are by Jacqueline Woodson, Sapphire, Essence editor Linda Villarosa, and filmmaker Michelle Parkerson, with other contributions by exciting new writers Cynthia Bond, Jocelyn Taylor, Jamika Ajalon, and Sharee Nash.

blacklikeusBlack Like Us: A Century of Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual African American Fiction
edited by Devon W. Carbado and Dwight McBride
Showcasing the work of literary giants like Langston Hughes, James Baldwin, Audre Lorde, Alice Walker, and writers whom readers may be surprised to learn were “in the life,” Black Like Us is the most comprehensive collection of fiction by African-American lesbian, gay, and bisexual writers ever published. From the Harlem Renaissance to the Great Migration of the Depression era, from the postwar civil rights, feminist, and gay liberation movements, to the unabashedly complex sexual explorations of the present day, Black Like Us accomplishes a sweeping survey of 20th century literature. Winner of the 2003 Lambda Literary Award for Fiction Anthology

doesyourmamaknowDoes Your Mama Know?: An Anthology of Black Lesbian Coming Out Stories edited by Lisa C. Moore
This is a collection of short stories, poems, interviews and essays by black lesbians. The complexity of emotions that accompany a black lesbian’s coming out are reflected in these original writings.


gritsG.R.I.T.S. – Girls Raised In the South: An Anthology of Southern Queer Womyns’ Voices and Their Allies
edited by Poet On Watch and Amber N. Williams (with introduction by Cheryl Clarke)
This cutting-edge anthology G.R.I.T.S : Girls Raised In The South – An Anthology of Southern Queer Womyns’ Voices and Their Allies, edited by Poet On Watch & Amber N. Williams, can be compared to the pioneering anthology Home Girls, which featured writings by Black feminist and lesbian activists on topics both provocative and profound. G.R.I.T.S. is a critical self-analysis and celebration with multicultural queer women voices and their allies through essays, short stories, poetry, photo stories and healing comfort recipes. The perspectives are of womyn who live in the Southern region of the United States and/or have a strong affinity for this locale. The theme of the publication surrounds the subject matter of erotica while enjoying food, our connection to the South, the bonds created between lovers, and in sisterhood, personal growth, be it spiritual or otherwise and our best G.R.I.T.S. recipes.

Feminist Works


homegirlsHome Girls
edited by Barbara Smith
The pioneering anthology Home Girls features writings by Black feminists and lesbian activists on topics both provocative and profound. Since its initial publication in 1983, it has become an essential text on Black women’s lives and writings. This edition features an updated list of contributor biographies and an all-new preface that provides a fresh assessment of how Black women’s lives have changed – or not – since the book was first published.

 

sisteroutsiderSister Outsider: Essays and Speeches by Audre Lorde (with foreword by Cheryl Clarke)
Presenting the essential writings of black lesbian poet and feminist writer Audre Lorde, Sister Outsider celebrates an influential voice in twentieth-century literature. In this charged collection of fifteen essays and speeches, Lorde takes on sexism, racism, ageism, homophobia, and class, and propounds social difference as a vehicle for action and change.

 

womenraceclassWomen, Race, & Class by Angela Y. Davis
A powerful study of the women’s movement in the U.S. from abolitionist days to the present that demonstrates how it has always been hampered by the racist and classist biases of its leaders.

Films

bessiemovieBessie
Queen Latifah stars as legendary blues singer Bessie Smith in this HBO Films presentation, directed by acclaimed filmmaker Dee Rees (named one of 20 filmmakers to watch by The New York Times). The film focuses on Smith’s transformation from a struggling young singer into “The Empress of the Blues,” who became one of the most successful recording artists of the 1920s and is an enduring icon today.

watermelonwomanThe Watermelon Woman
Cheryl Dunye’s debut feature is as controversial as it is sexy and funny. Cheryl is a twenty-something black lesbian working as a clerk in a video store while struggling to make a documentary about Fae Richards, an obscure black actress from the 1930’s. Cheryl is surprised to discover that Richards (known popularly as “the Watermelon Woman”) had a white lesbian lover. At the same time, Cheryl falls in love with a very cute white customer at the video store (Guinevere Turner from Go Fish).


womenbrewsterplacemovieThe Women of Brewster Place

Based on the novel by Gloria Naylor, a group of strong-willed women live in the same rundown housing project and struggle against racism, poverty and troublesome men through three decades. Starring Oprah Winfrey, Jackee Harry, Robin Givens, this miniseries features a black lesbian couple dealing with the joys and pains of being whom they are.


Novels

thecolorpurpleThe Color Purple by Alice Walker
The Color Purple is a 1982 epistolary novel by American author Alice Walker that won the 1983 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and the National Book Award for Fiction. It was later adapted into a film and musical of the same name.  The story focuses on the life of Celie and her struggles as a black woman in 1930s rural Georgia, and the relationship between her and provocative blues singer Shug Avery. Moving, painful and full of life.


descendantsofhagarDescendants of Hagar
by Nik Nicholson
It’s 1914 in Zion, Georgia, during the Black Codes, when Negroes were lynched for one wrong glance. A time when marriage was an agreement between a woman’s father and the man he chose for her. Most women had no romantic interest in their future husbands. In the worst case, they were promised to complete strangers. Madelyn “Linny” Remington is the great-great granddaughter of strong-spirited ex-slave, Miemay, who oversees her rearing. While other women were raised to be broken, Linny was reared to build and repair. When other women were expected to be seen and not heard, Linny was expected to vote beside men. As other women prayed they would be chosen for marriage before they were too old, Linny cleaned her rifle to hunt. While her sister hoped to honor her husband by bearing a son, Linny wondered how a single woman could provide for herself, when only male children could expect an inheritance. A secret has Linny slated as her father’s favorite son. Until Linny makes a promise that frees her from a conventional woman’s role, but the promise also brings shame on her family. Will Linny, threatened with alienation, honor her promise? Or bow to her father’s will an
d go back on her word? Read the Sistahs on the Shelf review of Descendants of Hagar.

lovingherLoving Her: A Novel by Ann Allen Shockley
Considered to be the first black lesbian novel. A groundbreaking novel of two very different women, one black and one white, and a remarkable love threatened by prejudice, rage, and violence

A struggling African-American musician, Renay married Jerome Lee when she discovered she was pregnant with his child. Yet even before their daughter, Denise, was born, Renay realized what a terrible mistake she had made, tying herself to a violent, abusive alcoholic. Then, while performing at an upscale supper club, Renay met Terry Bluvard. Beautiful, wealthy, and white, Terry awakened feelings that the talented black pianist had never realized she possessed—and before long, Renay was leaving the nightmare of Jerome Lee behind and moving with little Denise into Terry’s world of luxury and privilege.

Now, in this strange and exciting new place, Renay can experience for the first time what it is to have everything she needs for herself and her little girl. The rules here are different—often confusing and sometimes troubling—but in Terry’s home, and in Terry’s arms, Renay can be who she truly is . . . and be loved with caring tenderness and respect. Yet the storm clouds of her previous life still threaten, and Terry’s love alone may not be enough to protect Renay and her little girl from the tragedy that looms on the horizon. Read the Sistahs on the Shelf review of Loving Her.

passingPassing by Nella Larsen
Clare Kendry leads a dangerous life. Fair, elegant, and ambitious, she is married to a white man unaware of her African-American heritage, and has severed all ties to her past. Clare’s childhood friend, Irene Redfield, just as light-skinned, has chosen to remain within the African-American community, but refuses to acknowledge the racism that continues to constrict her family’s happiness. A chance encounter forces both women to confront the lies they have told others—and the secret fears they have buried within themselves.

Poetry

Jonestown and Other Madness: Poetry jonestownparker by Pat Parker
Straightforward, no-nonsense poetry about being Black, female and gay.

livingasalesbiannewLiving as a Lesbian by Cheryl Clarke
Living as a Lesbian is Cheryl Clarke’s paean to lesbian life. Filled with sounds from her childhood in Washington, DC, the riffs of jazz musicians, and bluesy incantations, Living as a Lesbian sings like a marimba, whispering “i am, i am in love with you.” Living as a Lesbian chronicles Clarke’s years of literary and political activism with anger, passion, and determination. Clarke mourns the death of Kimako Baraka, “sister of famous artist brother”; celebrates the life of Indira Gandhi; and chronicles all kinds of disasters natural and human-made. The world is large in Living as a Lesbian but also personal and intimate. These poems are closely observed and finely wrought with Clarke’s characteristic charm and wit shining throughout. In 1986, Living as a Lesbian captured the vitality and volatility of the lesbian world; today, in a world both changed and unchanged, Clarke’s poems continue to illuminate our lives and make new meanings for Living as a LesbianRead the Sistahs on the Shelf review of Living as a Lesbian.

Information compiled from amazon.com


Favorite SOTS Books Read in 2015

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While there weren’t any reviews posted at Sistahs on the Shelf in 2015, I definitely was reading last year. So I present to you my favorite SOTS books read in 2015:

undertheudalatrees1.     Under the Udala Trees by Chinelo Okparanta
If done well, coming-of-age stories can make you fall in love, cry, and root for the protagonist’s journey into adulthood. Under the Udala Trees was that book for me in 2015. Tenderly written, this is the book that captured my emotions in the most heartbreaking way. Set during the Biafran War in late 1960s Nigeria, Udala Trees is a narrative that’s been done before – a young woman coming to terms with her sexuality – but Okparanta conveys Ijeoma’s life so beautifully and effortlessly as she loses her family to the war, braves the first plucks of love and being exposed, and suffers a life she’s made to want. Yet there is a small glimmer of hope in the pages – it just doesn’t come easy. (Read our 5-star review of her previous work, Happiness Like Water.)

 

lestales2.     Les Tales by Skyy, Nikki Rashan and Fiona Zedde
Hands down, the best short story collection I’ve read in quite some time, Les Tales is just that good. But why shouldn’t it be? Here you have three popular authors of black lesbian fiction writing about forbidden love, stories that are fully fleshed, captivating and give you feel after feel. (You might have seen me squealing in some instances…shhh). Skyy’s romance sets up the magic of the book, while Rashan’s plot involves a twisted but intriguing turn of events, but Zedde’s story – girl! –had my hormones all over the place. Zedde does what she does brilliantly – create extremely beddable love interests that you wish you could meet in real life. Overall, Les Tales contains hot sex scenes and striking characters. It only makes me sad that Nikki Rashan produced one her finest works in this collection, and she’s no longer with us.

 

forsizakele

3.     For Sizakele by Yvonne ‘Fly’ Onakeme Etaghene
This was a debut novel that took me by surprise. For Sizakele is about NYU sophomore Taylor, an immigrant transplanted to the US as a young child, fighting to preserve her Nigerian culture in a world that overlooks the immigrant experience. She’s also struggling with girlfriend, Lee, mostly because of Taylor’s bisexuality, a serious point of contention between them. When Taylor befriends fellow Nigerian student Sy, she shares the pangs of her hot-and-cold romance, as well as the familiarity of their native land. It’s a connection she gravitates toward, in the midst of trying to figure out where she and Lee are headed and how best to live her life. For Sizakele is for anyone who’s survived a painful breakup, who questions whether love is enough, and whether the past can truly be healed. Etaghene also deftly portrays of the LGBT immigrant experience in America, something sorely needed in literature.

 

 

4.     The Rules by S. Renee Bessrulesthebess
Both a mystery and a discourse in black lesbian authorship, The Rules is truly engaging. It’s the kind of book that throws a lot at you, but makes you think. Protagonist London Phillip’s anguish to find missing lesbian author Milagros Farrow makes for a compelling, character-driven story in the way that Bess is so good at. In any good thriller, there are the good guys, the bad girls and the one whose good intentions go horribly wrong. If you enjoy mature romance and themes, The Rules definitely fits the bill.

 

 

jamonthevine

 

5.     Jam on the Vine by LaShonda Katrice Barnett
Jam on the Vine is a remarkable piece of historical fiction following Ivoe Williams from a precocious 5-year-old girl with a thirst for knowledge in the Jim Crow South to a woman launching the first female-run African American newspaper with lover Ona in Kansas City in 1919. The toils and triumphs Ivoe faces in the creation and distribution of her publication, named Jam! On the Vine, are the bread-and-butter of Bennett’s well-researched novel. She captures the strength black women employ to be heard and respected in one of the country’s most volatile times. While at times Jam moves densely toward Ivoe’s future endeavors, her family is richly drawn, and the love story is energetic.

southerncomfort6.     Southern Comfort by Skyy
Her first full-length novel since the acclaimed Choices series ended in 2013, Skyy had a lot riding on Southern Comfort. She conquered that hurdle in creating the love long-distance love affair between British bred Willow and Tennessee native Katrina. The book jet sets between London and Memphis as the pair navigate a relationship and friendships from differing coasts. The result is good fun – even when drama rears its head as it tends to do in Skyy’s books. Based on Southern Comfort, I’m excited to see where she goes next.

 

allornothing1

7.   All or Nothing by J. L. Dillard
An invigorating, empowering rompfest best describes All or Nothing, the first installment in J.L. Dillard’s The Pleasure Principle series. Sideline reporter AJ Arenas’ story begins when her engagement ends, and she decides to shed her good girl image – involving a dose of threesomes, secrets and, just maybe, love. AJ’s astounding to watch: her confidence and pursuit of her desires, be it woman or man, without hurting anyone. And I found her rendezvous with women to be hotter than fish grease. With All or Nothing, prepare to be pleased.

thistime

 

8.     This Time by Monique Thomas
Monique Thomas writes everyday love stories, the kind that feel familiar and whose characters that could be your real-life friends. This Time is no different. When former roommates and one-time lovers Nina and Trish are reunited by a set up, the women’s’ drunken night together evokes the hurtful memories that haunted their years of no contact. Their road to forgiveness is so genuine and real. It’s a happily ever after worth the emotions it puts you through. This Time also features one of my favorite lines all year: “Just so you know I’m not a piece of guaranteed ass.”

 

nototherwisespecified9.     Not Otherwise Specified by Hannah Moskowitz
The synopsis of Not Otherwise Specified depicts main character Etta to a tee: she’s a black, bisexual, bulimic, former ballet dancer who feels she doesn’t fit anywhere in her small Nebraska town. All of this could make Etta an utter mess, but she’s simply a teenager trying to find her way. Etta’s insecurities and struggles at 17 are what label her endearing because despite her shortcomings she’s very self-aware. At that age all you want is to do is find your place and friends who love you for you. I loved Etta; I rooted for her so much. There hasn’t been a character quite like Etta in young adult fiction, and I hope voices like hers get more exposure in 2016.

azureblu2

 

10.     Azure BLU: The Royal Saga by Feral Kitty

The continuing saga originating from 2012’s Royal BLU, Azure BLU is pure drama from beginning to end. It’s hopeful that the characters, Royal especially, have learned from their mistakes and matured as women. Some have, and some haven’t (I’m looking at you Royal). But I guess it’s all about growing up and learning what it takes to be in an adult relationship. Hopefully by Book 3, it’ll take effect; until then one can enjoy the flurry of these hookups.


Books 2 Check Out – October 2015

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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):

By Your Side by Monique Thomas
Romance

Being married had taught school teacher Skylar Dennis many things but getting a divorce was her greatest lesson learned. She is living her life as she wants it and has the love of friends. She has vowed to never get in a serious relationship. She may miss going home to the same person every night but the thought of being hurt again was not an option.

The world could be at Mystique St. Claire’s feet if she wanted but all she focused on was her life as an art gallery owner and artist. Many women had tried to get the attention of the tall and mysterious beauty but she only had eyes for Skylar Dennis. It was time to make her move but she needed Skylar to walk with her.

For Sizakele by Yvonne Fly Onakeme Etaghene
Romance/Immigrant Issues

Taylor, a queer Nigerian college student, is in a passionate relationship with Lee, a black American basketball-playing pianist. When Taylor develops romantic feelings for Sy, a Cameroonian photographer whose similarities make them instant family, Taylor battles Lee’s jealousy. As Taylor encounters challenges to her femme and African identities, she finds ways, through the kinship of her friends, to define herself on her own terms. For Sizakele addresses transcontinental identity, intimate partner violence, queer gender and how we love as illuminators of who we are.

Lipstick Dom by T. Styles
Urban Romance

Echo Kelly has a secret only her diary knows about. But when her younger sister discovers her in an uncompromising position, she uses the information as blackmail, making her world a living hell. Her burden grows when she falls in love with her best friend who is all about money, which Echo doesn’t have. After being rejected from her mother and first love, Echo goes away to find herself, resurfacing years later as a powerful drug boss with an insatiable sexual drive. Before long her BFF returns, married to a dangerous man with ulterior motives. Soon old feelings from the past bubble to the surface and Echo finds herself caught between two loves. One who is passive aggressive and the other who would do anything to maintain Echo’s heart, including kill. Lipstick Dom is for ladies who love ladies and T. Styles’ fans who appreciate a drama-filled love story.

Not Otherwise Specified by Hannah Moskowitz
Young Adult

Etta is tired of dealing with all of the labels and categories that seem so important to everyone else in her small Nebraska hometown.

Everywhere she turns, someone feels she’s too fringe for the fringe. Not gay enough for the Dykes, her ex-clique, thanks to a recent relationship with a boy; not tiny and white enough for ballet, her first passion; not sick enough to look anorexic (partially thanks to recovery). Etta doesn’t fit anywhere—until she meets Bianca, the straight, white, Christian, and seriously sick girl in Etta’s therapy group. Both girls are auditioning for Brentwood, a prestigious New York theater academy that is so not Nebraska. Bianca might be Etta’s salvation…but can Etta be saved by a girl who needs saving herself?

She Wants Her Too (Volume 2) by Tasha C. Miller
Romance
Sequel to She Wants Her (read our review)

Women absolutely love Cleopatra Giovanni, however, the widely-adored Cleopatra doesn’t love them back—not anymore. She only has eyes for her beloved wife, Jacqueline. While her picture-perfect life inspires some, it brings out pure jealousy in others. The envious do everything in their power to tear these two newlyweds apart. Supriti, the new woman in town who doesn’t take “no” for an answer, is just one of the many oppositions this couple has to face. This feat of love in book form is filled with more dark secrets and more recklessness than anyone should ever have to handle. These countless demons, heart-wrenching deceptions, and destroyed dreams are what cause the steadfast Cleopatra to question everything—her marriage included. Will Cleopatra betray her vows? Will she even have a choice in the matter? The real question is… Will their love conquer all—Again? This 554-page epic romance will capture your heart, crush it, and revive it at the very same time. Will you TOO get caught up in this beautiful disaster?

The Sisters Are Alright: Changing the Broken Narrative of Black Women in America by Tamara Winfrey Harris
Politics & Social Sciences/Feminist Theory

What’s wrong with black women? Not a damned thing!

The Sisters Are Alright exposes anti–black-woman propaganda and shows how real black women are pushing back against distorted cartoon versions of themselves.

When African women arrived on American shores, the three-headed hydra—servile Mammy, angry Sapphire, and lascivious Jezebel—followed close behind. In the ’60s, the Matriarch, the willfully unmarried baby machine leeching off the state, joined them. These stereotypes persist to this day through newspaper headlines, Sunday sermons, social media memes, cable punditry, government policies, and hit song lyrics. Emancipation may have happened more than 150 years ago, but America still won’t let a sister be free from this coven of caricatures.

Tamara Winfrey Harris delves into marriage, motherhood, health, sexuality, beauty, and more, taking sharp aim at pervasive stereotypes about black women. She counters warped prejudices with the straight-up truth about being a black woman in America. “We have facets like diamonds,” she writes. “The trouble is the people who refuse to see us sparkling.”

Sound by Alexandra Duncan
Young Adult/Science Fiction

Sound is the stand-alone companion to Alexandra Duncan’s acclaimed debut novel Salvage, which was praised by internationally bestselling author Stephanie Perkins as “brilliant, feminist science fiction.”

As a child, Ava’s adopted sister, Miyole, watched her mother take to the stars, piloting her own ship from Earth to space making deliveries. Now a teen herself, Miyole is finally living her dream as a research assistant on her very first space voyage. If she plays her cards right, she could even be given permission to conduct her own research and experiments in her own habitat lab on the flight home. But when her ship saves a rover that has been viciously attacked by looters and kidnappers, Miyole, along with a rescued rover girl named Cassia, embarks on a mission to rescue Cassia’s abducted brother, and that changes the course of Miyole’s life forever. Harrowing, provocative, and stunning, Sound begins roughly a decade after the action in the author’s critically acclaimed Salvage, and is a powerful stand-alone companion.

Under the Udala Trees by Chinelo Okparanta
Coming of Age
Inspired by Nigeria’s folktales and its war, Under the Udala Trees is a deeply searching, powerful debut about the dangers of living and loving openly.

Ijeoma comes of age as her nation does; born before independence, she is eleven when civil war breaks out in the young republic of Nigeria. Sent away to safety, she meets another displaced child and they, star-crossed, fall in love. They are from different ethnic communities. They are also both girls.

When their love is discovered, Ijeoma learns that she will have to hide this part of herself. But there is a cost to living inside a lie.

As Edwidge Danticat has made personal the legacy of Haiti’s political coming of age, Okparanta’s Under the Udala Trees uses one woman’s lifetime to examine the ways in which Nigerians continue to struggle toward selfhood. Even as their nation contends with and recovers from the effects of war and division, Nigerian lives are also wrecked and lost from taboo and prejudice. This story offers a glimmer of hope — a future where a woman might just be able to shape her life around truth and love.


In Memory of Nikki Rashan

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In Memory of Nikki Rashan

August 18, 1972-May 4, 2015

nikkirashantribute

I was saddened to hear of author Nikki Rashan’s passing earlier this week. As a long-time reader of her four full-length novels and two anthologies, I was enamored with her talent for passionate storytelling, the kind of stories that engage and hook you within the first couple chapters. She was also a fighter, battling cancer, to which she lost her fight. Yet Nikki will always be remembered by Sistahs on the Shelf as a writer, a mother of twins, and a beautiful soul.

A year or so ago, I discovered Nikki’s blog, NB]tween Thoughts, where she discussed her life’s journey. After her passing, I began to read again, and in her last post on March 16, 2015 titled Pray or Worry, Don’t Do Both~N&B update~:-), I found this passage especially moving:

This blog isn’t written to sadden anyone, but instead I pray it’s encouraging in some way. I find refuge in blogs and books written by women who have gone through this journey. If sharing my experience can benefit someone else, I’m happy to share. My mindset right now is to absorb each day with whatever it brings. If it’s a quiet day at home, that’s fine, I have books to read, music to dance to and loved ones around me. If I’m out and about soaking up California sunshine, even better. If it’s day for treatment, all right, the treatment is only helping to rid [my] body of these busybody cells. Life goes on…I look forward to a trip home in May. I look forward to celebrating Brandy’s birthday in Hawaii this summer. I look forward to whatever is next because I trust and believe that it’s all for my good.

Nikki Rashan’s Bibliography
Double Pleasure, Double Pain (2003)
You Make Me Wanna (2005)
Cyber Case (2010)
The EXchange (2013)
Full Figured 7 (2013)
Les Tales: Tempted to Touch (2014)

Photos from www.nikkirashan.com


Books 2 Check Out – April 2015

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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):

All or Nothing – The Pleasure Principle Series (Book 1) by J.L. Dillard
Romance

Being desired by every man and woman she meets had never been a problem for AJ Arenas until her fiancé ended their relationship by cheating. When AJ realizes all is fair in payback and sex, she decides to make up for lost time. Shedding her good girl image behind closed doors, she made her first conquest a scandalous threesome involving a too-close-for-comfort colleague and an All-American football player. Soon AJ is caught up in a tangled web of passion, secrets and betrayal which lead her into the arms of a familiar enemy and the bed of an unexpected love. With everyone hot on her heels, it’s All or Nothing and AJ is ready for anything except falling in love.

Azure BLU: The Royal Saga by Feral Kitty
Romance
Sequel to Royal Blu (read our review)

Royal and Asia’s relationship appeared solid, or so she thought. Sure they had their issues they had to work through in the beginning, but from Asia’s standpoint they were very much in love and in it for the haul. Royal swore she was finished with her reckless playboy lifestyle…

Take another trip into the Royal kingdom and see how an Azure BLU sky will promise you a bright sunny day clear and bone dry, then everything suddenly changes in the blink of an eye. Don’t be deceived by the pretty Azure BLU sky, it looks so clear and inviting but it can be so cunning and sly!!

I Should’ve Cheated by TJ Rose
Romance

Braelyn and her fiancée, Kai, have the perfect relationship with the exception of falling short in one area…quality time. Kai is always on the go for work and often works late, leaving Braelyn feeling less like a fiancée and more like a roommate.

During a girl’s night out with her best friend, Roxy, Braelyn has a chance encounter with a dose of temptation by the name of Sevaughn. Braelyn can’t shake the magnetic draw to this new stranger, and she finds herself increasingly intrigued by Sevaughn, whose job as an undercover narcotic detective threatens to pull Braelyn into a dangerous underworld. After a lot of flirtation, Braelyn shatters her good-girl persona, diving head-first into a pillow-biting affair with Sevaughn, who has a few hidden secrets that make Braelyn a walking target.

Just as Braelyn is enjoying the illusion of Sevaughn, Kai makes a sudden change and starts devoting more time to being home. As a result, Braelyn finds herself in what most would consider a perfect situation: having her cake with Kai and overdosing on the dessert that is Sevaughn. Perfect pictures are bound to be shattered, though, and Braelyn soon finds herself trapped in an intricate web of deception and betrayal that will leave her regretting the day she decided to betray Kai. Things are never fair in love and war, but Braelyn is about to learn the hard truth about trading what she has at home to bask in the delusion of her fantasy…

I Should’ve Cheated chronicles a dangerous love triangle and will tease readers with a glimpse into what can happen when a person is tempted by what appears to be a plush, green lawn thriving just on the other side of the fence.

Jam on the Vine by LaShonda Katrice Barnett
Historical Fiction, Romance

A new American classic: a dynamic tale of triumph against the odds and the compelling story of one woman’s struggle for equality that belongs alongside Jazz by Toni Morrison and The Color Purple by Alice Walker

Ivoe Williams, the precocious daughter of a Muslim cook and a metalsmith from central-east Texas, first ignites her lifelong obsession with journalism when she steals a newspaper from her mother’s white employer. Living in the poor, segregated quarter of Little Tunis, Ivoe immerses herself in printed matter as an escape from her dour surroundings. She earns a scholarship to the prestigious Willetson College in Austin, only to return over-qualified to the menial labor offered by her hometown’s racially-biased employers.

Ivoe eventually flees the Jim Crow South with her family and settles in Kansas City, where she and her former teacher and lover, Ona, found the first female-run African American newspaper, Jam on the Vine. In the throes of the Red Summer—the 1919 outbreak of lynchings and race riots across the Midwest—Ivoe risks her freedom, and her life, to call attention to the atrocities of segregation in the American prison system.

Skillfully interweaving Ivoe’s story with those of her family members, LaShonda Katrice Barnett’s Jam on the Vine is both an epic vision of the hardships and injustices that defined an era and a moving and compelling story of a complicated history we only thought we knew.

Not Otherwise Specified by Hannah Moskowitz
Young Adult

Etta is tired of dealing with all of the labels and categories that seem so important to everyone else in her small Nebraska hometown.

Everywhere she turns, someone feels she’s too fringe for the fringe. Not gay enough for the Dykes, her ex-clique, thanks to a recent relationship with a boy; not tiny and white enough for ballet, her first passion; not sick enough to look anorexic (partially thanks to recovery). Etta doesn’t fit anywhere—until she meets Bianca, the straight, white, Christian, and seriously sick girl in Etta’s therapy group. Both girls are auditioning for Brentwood, a prestigious New York theater academy that is so not Nebraska. Bianca might be Etta’s salvation…but can Etta be saved by a girl who needs saving herself?

The Palace Blues by Brandy T. Wilson
Historical Romance
Lambda Literary Award Finalist in Lesbian Fiction

It is the age of bathtub gin, jazz—and lines. Lines not to be crossed, and certainly not by women.

Ladies sing the blues at The Palace and the rebellious, resourceful Frankie admires the cross-dressing Jean Bailey from afar. Running from her family’s oppressive pressure to marry, Frankie abandons her safe, white life in Chicago and follows the blues singer instead. At first it is merely an adventure of her star struck heart.

But the railroad yards, good times, riverboats and bum times lead Frankie on a remarkable journey between the sterile choices of her family and a reckless, daring life that at least offers a kind of freedom for a girl like her. Or is there another choice, one beyond the blues?

Safe Haven by B. L. Wilson
Romance, Suspense

A runaway ‘wife’ discovers love in the arms of a female doctor who treats her broken bones and bruises then mends her broken heart. Joanna Fairfield AKA Ms. Smith AKA June Davis is on the run from a murderous man who wants more than her love. Vicious killer Vernon Brown wants to take Joanna’s son, adopt him and kill her. Running away for the second time on a dark stormy night, Joanna stops in a place called Eagle View, North Carolina. It’s the small town her grandmother always claimed was a good place to raise any child. Her son, Danny is ill and she needs a doctor. When she meets the town’s one and only family doctor, Dr. Ellie Winston, sparks fly.

Southern Comfort by Skyy
Romance

Willow is at a crossroads. After caring for her father during his final days, she comes home to her flat in London wondering what’s next. Whether it’s traveling to some exotic location or starting her career in fashion, the only thing she is certain of is that she wants to finally experience the love she reads about in books. When a fluke change in the weather brings a sexy stranger into her life, she decides to throw caution to the wind and take her chances on love, which brings her to Memphis, Tennessee.

Seeing her happily ever after in front of her, Willow is thrown for a loop when she finds out she isn’t the only one vying for the woman she knows is the one for her. Now standing in unfamiliar territory, Willow prepares for the fight of her life, the fight to win the heart of the woman she loves from the woman who held the heart to begin with.

Katrina’s stuck between a rock and a hard place. On one hand she has the woman she loved, who left her high and dry, and on the other hand, an exciting new possibility. When the ultimatum is placed in front of her, does she go for the new beauty from across the pond, or stay with the one who got away?  Does this chef create the perfect dish, or is it a recipe for disaster?


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: ★★★★☆ 

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.

[rating-report]

Reviewed November 2014

About Monique ‘Being True’ Thomas

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.

[rating-report]

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

“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

Rating: ★★★★★ 

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.

[rating-report]

Reviewed June 2014

About Chinelo Okparanta

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.

[rating-report]

Reviewed April 2014

About Literary Stud

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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sweat

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.

[rating-report]

Reviewed April 2014

About 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.