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

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.

[rating-report]

Reviewed February 2014

About Michael Drain

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.


Valentine’s Day E-Book Roundup

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Feeling romantic this Valentine’s Day? Or feeling a little hot under the collar? Then pick up these e-books and enjoy the holiday!

hotforitHot For It by K.A. Smith
Publisher/Date:  K.A. Smith, Feb. 2014
Website:  http://krystalarnelle.wordpress.com

Rating: ★★★★☆ 

A sweltering New Mexico day and a frozen “treat” allow spouses Jordan and Kathy beat the heat in a senuous way in HOT FOR IT by K.A. Smith. Considering the cruel winter weather we’ve been having this year, Hot comes right on time. This short is a fun romp between loving partners and makes you wish your lover was just as creative. Smith, who’s also a published poet, has a flair that I’m looking forward to more of.


placenciaPlacencia by C.A. Clemmings
Publisher/Date:  Amazon Digital Services, Inc., Nov. 2013
Website:  http://www.caclemmings.com

Rating: ★★★★☆ 

Was it an accident or fate that Elodie becomes stranded in Belize instead of Honduras where she was to meet her girlfriend Andrea? After missing her bus, the night she spends in PLACENCIA is colorful to say the least, surrounded by eccentric natives, and most especially a tempting woman named Sage. But the few hours are also therapeutic for Elodie, who comes to some headway about her feelings for Andrea and her father’s death. Though I was a tad confused by a scene right before the story’s end, C.A. Clemmings’ prose breezily flows in Placencia, and I could see this short becoming a full-fledged novel. *hint hint*


safepassageSafe Passage by Kate Owen
Publisher/Date:  Less Than Three Press, LLC, Feb. 2014
Website:  http://writerkateowen.blogspot.com

Rating: ★★★★☆ 

Jules Delacroix has never been much of handy[wo]man, so restoring the New Orleans house inherited from her great Auntie becomes even more of a challenge after her sledgehammer happens upon a secret wall safe. Inside are letters written in French – and code – between Auntie and a mysterious recipient only known as “E.” Jules uses this discovery to recruit the help of Genevieve Dubois, the sexy French teacher (is there any other kind?) at the school where she and Jules teach. Jules, a former rowing Olympian, is excited by Gen’s help to decipher Auntie’s love letters – she’s had her eye on her for a while – and it’s where her own love story begins. SAFE PASSAGE is a novella I really enjoyed for its genuine characters. Jules and Gen are so insecure and hilarious and downright lovable. I laughed out loud at the banter between but aahed their affair and solved mystery by the novel’s end.


firsttastekendraFirst Taste: Kendra by Portia M. Delaney
Publisher/Date:  JTM Creations LLC, Dec. 2012

Rating: ★★★★☆ 

A workplace romance is one thing, but workplace sex? Yes ma’am, based on Portia M. Delaney’s FIRST TASTE: KENDRA. This is the story of a uptight lawyer, namely Kendra Holliday, attempting to fight the advances of her hot-in-the pants, demanding co-worker, Lea Jacobs. There’s a few entertaining negotiations between the women, but it’s a case that both women eventually “come” to terms with. Delaney’s writing is descriptive and fully-fleshed, in that she created whole characters where it could have been only about the sex. Don’t get me wrong though: the sex is hella erotic.That’s what makes me want a bigger slice of what Delaney is serving.


 

backtoyou2Back to You: Series Premiere (Bookisode 1) by Rebelle 
Publisher/Date:
JustUs LLC, Nov. 2013
Website:  http://www.livejustifiedbooks.com

Rating: ★★★½☆ 

Even a war-torn country can’t extinguish the love between U.N. Peace Keepers Penny Price and Sophie Mitchell in BACK TO YOU: SERIES PREMIERE. They’ve served together for two years and are each other’s life jackets in a land that could rob them of their lives in a moment’s notice. Especially in this first “bookisode” where Penny makes the decision to either kill or be killed. Rebelle captures this anguish, although there are a couple situations I felt were a wee bit far-fetched. It’s a keep-you-on-the-edge story, and I can feel the love between Penny and Sophie. I’m ready for Book 2 already (which is out now).

Reviewed February 2014


Interview & Review Chat | Love Relived by Monique ‘Being True’ Thomas

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loverelivedPublisher/Date:  CreateSpace, Feb. 2013
Genre(s):  Romance, Friendship
Pages:  198
Website:  authormoniquebeingtruethonas.wordpress.com

Rating: ★★★★☆ 

interviewreviewchatlogoFriendship and love go hand and hand…or does it? Photographer Mahogany Williams and head museum educator Cheryl James are testing this theory after being childhood best friends, then later lovers — and watching their connection crumble over the years. Can they get it back together? I had to find out from Monique ‘Being True’ Thomas, author of LOVE RELIVED. So read on to see what she thinks about love and friendship in this Interview & Review Chat. The transcript follows below:

Sistahs on the Shelf: Oh, Miss Monique?!

Monique ‘Being True’ Thomas: I am here.

Monique ‘Being True’ Thomas: Lol

Sistahs on the Shelf: Hey, how are you?

Monique ‘Being True’ Thomas: I am wonderful and antsy.

Sistahs on the Shelf: Don’t be. It’ll be painless, I promise.

Sistahs on the Shelf: Okay, so…let’s start with how long have you been writing?

Monique ‘Being True’ Thomas: I have been writing poetry since I was five years old and short stories from seven years of age.

Sistahs on the Shelf: So basically most of your life. What were you writing about at five years old?

Monique ‘Being True’ Thomas: Yes, I have been writing since I could put together words. My mother encouraged creativity and she always pushed me to read and write as much as I could. I used to sit at her desk and fill up yellow legal sized notepads with lines about my best friend at the time and my love of anything that had to do with basketball.

Sistahs on the Shelf: Oh, so this could have been the basis for Love Relived? Maybe?

Monique ‘Being True’ Thomas: Hmmm (inserts smile) I shall never tell.

Sistahs on the Shelf: Lol!

Monique ‘Being True’ Thomas: To be truthful my first girlfriend was at the age of seven and she was not my bff.

Sistahs on the Shelf: 7, huh? I was still dreaming of girls instead of kissing them at that age.

Monique ‘Being True’ Thomas: I had already had my first and second kiss that year.

Sistahs on the Shelf: *smh* *but impressed*

Monique ‘Being True’ Thomas: lol

Sistahs on the Shelf: Now about Love Relived, bffs in love. Tell us about your book.

Monique ‘Being True’ Thomas: Love Relived is a story that came to me as I was working on another book idea. The main characters are Cheryl and Mahogany, two women who were best friends throughout adolescence. My focus for the storyline was the aftermath of friends becoming lovers. Most people think that it can be an easy move to just get into a long lasting relationship, especially if the friendship had been so strong. That I believe is a myth that starts the relationship of wrong. Once Cheryl and Mahogany crossed the line the conflict began and there are really no answers for years leaving both with questions.

Sistahs on the Shelf: All very true.

Sistahs on the Shelf: Especially when one partner is struggling with her sexuality, like Mahogany, while the other knows who she is, like Cheryl.

Monique ‘Being True’ Thomas: Exactly! Mahogany is dealing with her own personal struggles. As close as she is to her friends not even they know that she was dealing with her sexuality. She feels as if she has an obligation to her family to be someone that she is not. She is strong but like so many of the strong she has a weakness. In Mahogany’s case it is her grandmother Mama Hanna. She knows her grandmother to be a God fearing woman and being gay is something that Mahogany doesn’t think she will accept.

Sistahs on the Shelf: Acceptance is something a lot of us have struggled with as black lesbians. I think you wrote Mahogany’s struggle realistically.

Monique ‘Being True’ Thomas: I tried my best to make sure that Mahogany came across real. We may not care if society accepts us as black lesbians but there are people who are close to us that we wish would love us no matter who we love or what we do.

Sistahs on the Shelf: But the crazy thing is where we think we’re hiding ourselves, some of our family members knew our tea before we poured it.

Monique ‘Being True’ Thomas: Yes! I have found that the only people in the “closet” are the ones that claim not to be in one.

Sistahs on the Shelf: Yep!

Sistahs on the Shelf: Speaking of realistic, is Cheryl and Mahogany’s relationship based on your or anyone else’s relationship?

Monique ‘Being True’ Thomas: No one has asked me this question so kudos to you. (smile) When I first set out to write this book I had no particular thought process. I just let the words flow. It was not until I read the first draft back to myself that I realized that this was subconsciously personal.

Sistahs on the Shelf: How so?

Monique ‘Being True’ Thomas: For one thing I have been in a situation where a friend and I have crossed an emotional line that was way beyond friendship. Although I explained my reluctance I did not shut down the feelings that I knew were growing. I tried to act as if I could use my charm and full blown cocky arrogance to move past the feelings and continue our friendship as if nothing had changed between us. That proved to be unrealistic and problematic. The line had been crossed and the friendship became difficult. When someone tells you they want to move forward with you romantically and you don’t it is a difficult thing. When said person is a very good friend the stakes are high. You have to deal with feelings of rejection, hurt, and anger. It is a dangerous game.

Monique ‘Being True’ Thomas: So like Mahogany, I decided to run.

Sistahs on the Shelf: So what happened?

Monique ‘Being True’ Thomas: We have both moved on. The friendship is done. We have not talked in years. We have mutual friends and it is crazy because we respond to their posts on Facebook without talking to one another. Life is something.

Sistahs on the Shelf: It sure is.

Sistahs on the Shelf: But crossing that friendship line…do you think it can be worth it?

Monique ‘Being True’ Thomas: That is the billion dollar question isn’t it? The friends and lovers debate has been going on for years. For some it works and for others it is a disaster. I believe that it can work but when before a dating relationship can begin a conversation has to be had. You can’t bring up everything that pertained to our friendship. As I used to say all the time, once the line is crossed it is a different ballgame. The” me” you knew as your friend may not be the “me” you want as your mate. You really have to think about it.

Monique ‘Being True’ Thomas: If I was a jerk to all my girlfriends, don’t assume that I will treat you different because we have a history as friends.

Sistahs on the Shelf: Huh, ain’t that the truth.

Sistahs on the Shelf: But having that history is “supposed” to make the relationship easier, let some people tell it.

Monique ‘Being True’ Thomas: That is foolishness. Maybe for some that was the case and I applaud them. Most however don’t remember the way they watched you treat your other mates until something happens. By then you can’t bring it up because you were warned way in advance. As a matter of fact you as the friend had the clearest crystal ball of them all but for whatever reason you chose not to see. Don’t get me wrong, I believe that everyone can change. I know that personally. I am just speaking truth.

Sistahs on the Shelf: Speaking of being true, throughout Love Relived, Cheryl is stayed true to herself regardless of the changes Mahogany put her through. I loved that about her.

Monique ‘Being True’ Thomas: Thank you so much. Cheryl’s weakness is Mahogany. Though that is the case she refuses to let Mahogany’s confusion cloud her decisions and break her heart further.

Sistahs on the Shelf: I remember a line from your book that said, “It’s the crime of stealing hearts.” I loved that.

Monique ‘Being True’ Thomas: That line is from a poem I wrote when I was around 18 years old called, ‘Robbing the broken’. It was really me boasting that I could say whatever, do whatever and still like a boomerang I knew the girls would come back. I used to be arrogant beyond. When I was writing that particular scene in Love Relived the line came to me again. Now that I am older it has a completely different meaning.

Sistahs on the Shelf: What meaning does it have for you [now]?

Monique ‘Being True’ Thomas: Now that I am older and have lived through a few trials in my life the line is a symbol of knowing that I didn’t want the love I was receiving but instead of saying that I took it anyway. That is a crime. Those girls could have spent time with someone who was worthy of their admiration.

Sistahs on the Shelf: Wow. That is some truth right there.

Monique ‘Being True’ Thomas: Thank you. I have learned lessons and through the teaching that my wrongs have showed me I am better.

Monique ‘Being True’ Thomas: Writing has helped tremendously. I can see certain characters clearly because of my experiences both personal and through friends.

Sistahs on the Shelf: I agree. Writing and reading especially have always opened my eyes.

Monique ‘Being True’ Thomas: Yes indeed!

Sistahs on the Shelf: Now Mama Hanna. I want her to adopt me, since I have no living grandparents. She is a hoot and a great sounding board for both her granddaughter Mahogany and by extension, Cheryl.

Sistahs on the Shelf: I love when she tells Mahogany: “Girl a pot unstirred never made good stew. It just sat and burned.”

Monique ‘Being True’ Thomas: I adore Mama Hanna. She is lively, blunt and doesn’t miss a thing. She is the true meaning of unconditional love. The lines that she says in the book are me all day. I can make up a saying in a second.

Sistahs on the Shelf: I know that’s right! I follow you on Facebook.

Monique ‘Being True’ Thomas: Ha! Ha!! Yes I like to think I am a wise clown.

Sistahs on the Shelf: Yes, you are. Mission accomplished.

Monique ‘Being True’ Thomas: LOL! Thank you.

Sistahs on the Shelf: Okay so one last question (I think). What new projects are in the works?

Monique ‘Being True’ Thomas: First let me just say that Lisa, a character from Loved Relived has her own story, In its Rawest Form, which is currently out. I began 2014 by putting out my latest Feeling for the Wall. This one is for those who have been in real love. I mean that kind of love that makes you smile but question. It also deals with what happens when after years of being together how life can get in the way with the day to day love. What happens when routine overwhelms us. I have two other books that I am working on now that I will be putting out sometime this year. One will be released this spring and the other in the fall.

Sistahs on the Shelf: You work hard, Monique.

Monique ‘Being True’ Thomas: I have been blessed with a partner who has made it so that I can live my dream.

Monique ‘Being True’ Thomas: I also have a short story collection and a few novelettes available as well.

Monique ‘Being True’ Thomas: I would like to add something if that is okay.

Sistahs on the Shelf: Sure, go ahead.

Monique ‘Being True’ Thomas: The end of 2012 was one of the hardest years that I think I have ever been through. I was holding it together for the masses but inside I was scared and falling apart. I had a serious health scare and I lost my job. I was nervous to the point that I wrote out a will. I didn’t know if I would be here for 2014. Having already had one stroke due to stress I was told that I was on the verge of having another. That is why I dedicated every moment of 2013 to writing and family. I opened my eyes wide and really looked. I realized a lot of things about myself and I also learned how much my babe truly loves the heck out of me. I have gotten healthier and have learned to clear my mind and return to the “me” that I am. For that I will forever be thankful and I will not give up this chance to share my love of writing with the world.

Sistahs on the Shelf: That is heartbreaking and beautiful and inspiring. Your hard work is paying off.

Monique ‘Being True’ Thomas: I hope that it does. I didn’t want to leave this world without more of my work published.

Sistahs on the Shelf: You’ll have plenty of time to share more, I’m sure. I truly believe that.

Monique ‘Being True’ Thomas: Thank you! I am in much better health and have moved back into my positive space.

Sistahs on the Shelf: I’m glad.

Monique ‘Being True’ Thomas: As am I. I have more time to clown *lol*

Sistahs on the Shelf: *lol* You slay me, Mo.

Monique ‘Being True’ Thomas: I try.

[rating-report]

Reviewed/Interviewed January 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.


Descendants of Hagar by Nik Nicholson (Jan. 2014 Pick of the Month)

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descendantsofhagarpotmlogoPublisher/Date:  AuthorHouse, July 2013
Genre(s):  Historical Fiction
Pages:  398 pages
Website:  http://www.niknicholson.com

Rating: ★★★★★ 

I’ve stated in a previous post that DESCENDANTS OF HAGAR was outright the best book I read in 2013. The reason why belongs to Madelyn “Linny” Remington, the heroine of this tale set in a fictional version of Zion, Georgia in 1914.

Linny carried away my heart in world that wasn’t made for modern women: where women are voiceless without a man; when marriage was an arrangement between a father and the man he chose for his daughter; where a woman’s only calling and accomplishment is to bear children.

And in this sheltered life stood Linny, treated like a son instead of a daughter, groomed to build and work beside men, and given a voice unlike her own wedded sisters who were expected to keep quiet. At 20 years old and unmarried, she could have been considered an old maid, but she never saw her worth tied into being betrothed.

Lambda-Medal2014

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

Underneath the way Linny’s expected to take on a masculine work ethic lies the heart of a woman. She can hunt and slaughter, but her favorite time is sitting in the women’s quilting circle, connecting with the grandmothers, mothers and sisters of Zion, relishing the women’s stories and lost dreams.

Nicholson creates Linny’s most significant female relationship with her great-great-grandmother, Miemay, who ensures Linny’s purpose wasn’t being someone’s wife. Miemay, an ex-slave and the only woman in Zion to own land and businesses (without ever learning to read), is highly respected as a town elder. This knowledge she passes on to Linny, slowly giving her control over her affairs. Whereas Linny believed she was following the wishes of the woman who practically raised her and spending time with a woman with more head smarts than five men combined, Miemay was preparing Linny to be self-sufficient.

There are so many layers to unravel in Descendants of Hagar, and Nicholson has done her research to tie them in a vibrant arrangement. Linny’s strong voice brings to life a woman’s sexuality in a post-Reconstruction era novel and all the challenges it brings – a single woman taking care of her own home without a man’s help, feeling slighted by her mother because of her unlady like ways, being treated like one of the guys but being left out of their conversations.

Family is also one of Hagar’s solid storylines, because Nicholson touches on just how important kin is to Zion, not only to provide a foundation but also to its prosperity. All of the work done in Zion, from the construction of houses, to picking cotton, to running the main store, is kept in the family, and working together has allowed them to be better off than many in the poor white towns surrounding them – but also creates worry about the next threat from will bear “strange fruit” in their own backyards. Linny’s relationship with family is tenuous, most especially with her parents and brothers, but the love from her sisters is her lifeline. Though they treat her with kid gloves at times, they depend on her, admire and envy her unencumbered life, and add such a great life to this novel.

And falling in love is aspect of Hagar that’s significant but not an overpowering part of the novel, which I enjoyed. I assumed there would be some romance, but I appreciated how Nicholson didn’t make it the bulk of this tale. The love between her and Coley is realistic of and fits into the context of the time. Coley means well, and I like how she allows Linny to think outside the box, but Coley is a piece of work. Just get to know her.

Descendants of Hagar is a potent story – somber, sweet, funny, uplifting, enriching – and Nicholson does a fantastic job of capturing this time period. She truly did her homework. This makes me even more excited for the sequel, Daughter of Zion, out this fall.

[rating-report]

Reviewed January 2014

About Nik Nicholson

In 2009, Nik Nicholson began research for Descendants of Hagar. She interviewed approximately sixty women. The research exposed the challenges of masculine-centered lesbians, including how they come to terms with and express their sexuality and gender roles. Descendants of Hagar is Nicholson’s highly-anticipated debut novel. It is the first novel of a two-part series, which includes the intoxicatingly beautiful, Daughter of Zion., scheduled to be released September 2014.

Nik is an artist; in addition to writing she is also a poet, a spoken-word performer, actor and painter.


First Love by C. Truth

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firstlovePublisher/Date:  Penny Publishing, LLC, June 2011
Genre(s):  Romance, Coming Out, Young Adult
Pages:  181
Website:  http://www.bflyctruth.com

Rating: ★★★☆☆ 

As much as I want to, I can never tell a book character what to do. And not just because she’s not a live, breathing person, but because when it comes to a teenager like Savannah in FIRST LOVE by C. Truth, she wouldn’t listen to me anyway.

She’s 17, a high school senior and falling in love with best friend Bree. She can’t talk to her by-the-Bible mom, who wants a better friend for her daughter than the openly-gay Bree. And she can’t tell Bree she likes her, because she has a girlfriend. She has virtually no one to turn to with her feelings.

I wish she would listen to me. But what could I tell a book-smart, hard-working girl like Savannah, coming from someone older?

  1. Don’t get a boyfriend just to please your mother. When handsome football player Marco approaches and asks you out, say no. Just because he’s 5’7’’ with chocolate skin and deep waves in his hair, and he’s the guy all the girls want, doesn’t mean you really want to go out with him and you shouldn’t get him caught up in your confusion about your sexuality. It can only lead to heartache for both you. Especially when you kiss him and you’re thinking about Bree.
  2. Be honest with yourself. Savannah, you spend a lot of time in your room pondering your sexuality, and that’s good. But you also beat yourself about liking girls when that’s truly where your heart is. Stop it, be who you are. There’s nothing wrong with liking girls. I spent my own high school years denying whom I was, only to feel like I should have just owned up to my feelings.
  3. Tell Bree how you feel. Girl, it’s hard, I know. Telling someone how you feel is never easy. But this is Bree, your homie. You’ve known her since elementary school. She’s told you all about her girlfriends, and you know she would do anything for you. I find it hard to believe she would abandon you after you told her the truth. And don’t worry about that girlfriend of hers; she’ll reveal her true colors – and whom do you think she’ll coming running to advice and comfort?
  4. Don’t make such a big deal about sex. I know at 17 it seems like sex is the best thing on earth. Don’t get me wrong; it’s amazing. But you know what, Savannah? It’s better with the right person. Feel me. Don’t be in such a hurry to give what’s your most precious gift. Cause when it’s right, ooh wee!
  5. Get your mother a boyfriend. Your mother is a piece of work. These praying rants y’all do to save you from lesbianism aren’t going to work. Since your mother is forever beating down the church doors, find her a deacon to work out her own issues with.

Now that I’ve taken care of Savannah, let’s move on to C. Truth. First Love is a dramatic book for sure, but the both the story and the writing needed work. There are more than a few grammatical issues, and some of the situations Savannah found herself in seemed too far-fetched, like her first college visit which went swimmingly considering how complicated her life became by that point. I read so many 5-star reviews for First Love, and while I was reading, I was a little disappointed in how the story unravelled.

Full of youthful decisions and text messages, First Love is good for the drama and the angst of beginning love. Some girls could identify with the identity and parental issues Savannah faces. Teens can read it also for C. Truth’s 8 Love Lessons she provides at the end of the book. Too bad she didn’t make Savannah follow any of them.

[rating-report]

Reviewed November 2013

About C. Truth

I was born in Kansas City, KS, and raised by my Great-grandmother in Kansas City, MO. After high school I went straight to work. I spent five years with the worlds largest electronic retailer, then left the Store Assistant Manager position and enrolled the University Of North Carolina at Charlotte and began writing full-time. I have been living in Charlotte, North Carolina since 2007.

I began writing in my early years of high school. Teachers, friends and family had mentioned to me that my writing was something special, but I didn’t gain the courage in my writing until I started blogging on downelink.com, a lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, transgendered social networking site in 2008. The comments left on my page about the blogs gave me the inspiration I needed to complete my first five novels titled First Love, a love story; Intoxicating, an anthology of short stories; Fly Truth, an anthology of thoughts, Second Love, a continuation novel; and iEscaped, an anthology of poetry.


Abandoned Property: The Eviction Chronicles Part 2 by Kai Mann

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Publisher/Date:  Scriblical Vibez Publishing LLC, June 2013
Genre(s):  Family, Romance, Self-Love
Pages:  282
Website:  http://kai-mann.com

Rating: ★★★★☆ 

ABANDONED PROPERTY by Kai Mann, the sequel to 30 Day Notice, proves that losing family, money or your soul can sometimes set you on the path, for better or worse, you were destined.

30 Day Notice was Mann’s first installment in Eviction Chronicles, and it was a journal into the life of Kori Maitland. It was being literally trapped in the closet with a gun to her head that set her life in motion, leaving behind her four children to escape her boys witnessing the pain and discomfort being a lesbian trapped in a straight marriage. She knew God was steering her life to something greater. Moving from Florida to Chicago, Detroit and California, then back to Detroit, she encountered a series of trials that seriously tested her faith and sanity.

Abandoned Property continues her story, but ties in stories of five people Kori collided with on her journey, from her husband she left to the women’s she’s loved. Jerard, Darius, Jay, Layla, Karina and Coco had all in some way been discarded in some fashion, and each one’s reaction to their abandonment impacts Kori’s life.

Jerard has been left to raise four kids after Kori’s departure; Darius deals with his sexuality after his father leaves his family for drugs; Jay can’t seem to forgive her mother’s neglect; Layla is forced to begin life again after her husband skips out; Karina is facing motherhood alone; and Coco feels the ache of her mother’s rejection when she comes out at 17.

With this many characters and their separate issues, it would appear that Mann’s story would be convoluted, but that could be far from the truth. It has great focus and I could see that, just like reality, every character’s life has a unique purpose and reason for being in Property. From childhood hurts to love affairs gone wrong, their hurts are magnified and felt as the story progresses. None of these characters were cookie cutter. What Mann reveals is how their abandonments serves to either propel them forward or set them back; how each chooses to use their insecurities, daddy issues, questioning sexuality or self-doubt; and how they dump their issues onto Kori by simply leaving or staying. Some truly loved Kori; some showed their love in destructive ways.

Abandoned Property permits us to see why the people were in her life for a reason. It paints a detailed, complete picture of what Kori underwent when she moved from place to place and couldn’t find a healthy relationship. And I wanted her to find real, unconditional love. Essentially, that’s what all them were looking for. How they try to obtain it is the compelling part.

I felt like Mann really brought Kori full circle. I felt a better connection to her (although there’s still a small part of me that questions leaving her kids). The writing is more cohesive in Abandoned Property, mostly because it wasn’t all narrated by Kori as in 30 Day Notice. It’s a solid effort. Now I just need to know what’s next, Kai Mann? I wonder what the future holds for Kori, but as long as she has herself to rely on, she should be okay.

[rating-report]

Reviewed November 2013

About Kai Mann

Kai Mann grew up in Fort Myers, Florida and currently resides in Detroit, Michigan. She is the author of two novels in the Eviction Chronicles called 30 Day Notice and Abandoned Property. Kai began writing at a young age and has always wanted to write a novel but knew that meant she would need to experience life before that could happen.

Kai came to the conclusion in the latter part of 2008 that the Creator had given her a story to tell and in 2009 she started writing her first novel 30 Day Notice. That year Kai would also become an independent contract writer for Examiner.com and hold the title of Detroit’s Best Friend Examiner. In her role as an Examiner, she purposefully writes articles to incite a deeper level of thought when it comes to friendship.

In 2011 Kai published 30 Day Notice under her newly created publishing company called “Scriblical Vibez Publishing, LLC”. The name came out of a need to publish content that she believed would challenge others to think and create a vibrational change in the universe. She believed the Creator gave her the name to remind her that she was responsible to scribe biblically while creating a message type vibe.

Kai is a proud member of the Motown Writers Network where she volunteers at conferences, workshops, and assists in publishing content on the network’s site.

In 2013 she published Abandoned Property her sophomore novel. In the same year she helped to produce a DocuSeries called Out Loud in the D. While the DocuSeries is still in progress, Kai is presently working on her next project a book of poems called Living on Lafayette Street.


If You Could Be Mine by Sara Farizan

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Farizan_IfYouCouldBeMine_REV.inddPublisher/Date:  Algonquin Young Readers, Aug. 2013
Genre(s):  Young Adult, Transsexual Issues
Pages:  256
Website:  http://www.algonquinyoungreaders.com/author/sara-farizan

Rating: ★★★★☆ 

The hunger to have the girl you love is magnified tenfold in a country where women are kept covered and veiled, and same-sex love could mean your life. Sara Farizan depicts this longing in unadorned language in IF YOU COULD BE MINE, with anger and hurt expressed through Sahar, a 17-year-old Iranian girl willing to undergo a sex change to marry her best friend.

Sahar fell in love with Nasrin when they were six years old, Nasrin commanding Sahar’s heart with her bossy attitude, and now as high school seniors, it’s clear not much has changed, except the fact that Sahar no longer has her mother, who died five years prior. Her Maman was the one to whom she confessed her love for Nasrin, and was told to never speak of it again.

Yet Sahar pursued her dream girl, their love expressed in sweet kisses behind closed doors. Watching Nasrin dance to American songs while Sahar studies to get into university. Holding hands in the street (it’s considered innocent). Their secret love feels like child’s play in their fantasy world – especially after Nasrin is promised to an older wealthy suitor, a doctor no less. Sahar is heartbroken, and that’s when she gets the idea to have a sex change to stop this impending marriage from happening.

Surprisingly, sexual reassignment surgery is legal in Iran, and this is the route Sahar is willing to undergo to be with Nasrin. Her desperation is visible in the transsexual support group she visits to weigh her options, where she’s blinded the promise of what could be with Nasrin. Changing her gender is not necessarily what she wants, and who can blame her? She’s aware of the horrid way men treat women in her country, behaving by a rigid patriarchal code, but what else can she do to keep Nasrin to herself?

This is not an easy decision for Sahar, especially since she keeps her plans hidden from Nasrin, which nagged me as I read. If there’s anyone she’s supposed share everything with, it would be the girl she loves. However, it’s Sahar’s indecision (and the significant people her life) that dominate the book. A sex change is not something one can decide on a whim, especially in her case since it could create more problems than not. Not that I believe Nasrin, with her self-absorbed self, would appreciate it.

Goes to show teenage love is the strongest love (at least at the time). You’ll think you and your first girlfriend will be together forever, even when this love is trying on wedding dresses to marry someone else. Yet, Sahar has to come to this conclusion on her own. Her story graciously and truthfully captures those emotions: from giddyness, to despondency, to anger at not having the love seemingly perfect for her. However, the silver lining of Mine is that Sahar stays true to herself.

I enjoyed Farizan’s writing style in Mine – simple, profound – and creating such a brave, intelligent character like Sahar. I wonder if the author will venture revisiting Sahar in adulthood. I’m quite sure her story doesn’t end here.

Reviewed October 2013

About Sara Farizan

Sara Farizan was born on August 2, 1984 in Massachusetts. Her parents immigrated from Iran in the seventies, her father a surgeon and her mother a homemaker. Sara grew up feeling different in her private high school not only because of her ethnicity but also because of her liking girls romantically, her lack of excitement in science and math, and her love of writing plays and short stories. So she came out of the closet in college, realized math and science weren’t so bad (but not for her), and decided she wanted to be a writer. She is an MFA graduate of Lesley University and holds a BA in film and media studies from American University. Sara has been a Hollywood intern, a waitress, a comic book/record store employee, an art magazine blogger, a marketing temp, and an after-school teacher, but above all else she has always been a writer. Sara lives near Boston, has a cool sister, loves Kurosawa films, eighties R&B, and graphic novels, and thinks all kids are awesome. If You Could Be Mine is her first novel.


Letters to My Bully edited by Ifalade Ta’Shia Asanti and Azaan Kamau

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Publisher/Date:  Lulu, Aug. 2012
Genre(s):  Life Guide, Self-Help
Pages:  180
Website:  http://gloverlanepress.webs.com

Rating: ★★★★☆ 

“And in between the Silence, Listen to the Voice that whispers,
You’re good. Overcome.”

Somber and bittersweet, LETTERS TO MY BULLY edited by Ifalade Ta’Shia Asanti and Azaan Kamau is an uplifting work.

It documents letters, essays and poetry written by authors to their tormentors, usually their peers or loved ones, with the purpose of showing teens and adults that they are not alone and with time, life does get better. The 35 authors featured in Letters, including CSI: Miami actor Robert LaSardo, have been beaten, humiliated, tortured, but in spite of what they endured, they still impart positive messages, and prove that the best revenge is living well.

As noted in Letters, their harassment was due to any number of reasons bullies chose to focus on: sexuality, skin color, weight, intelligence, socio-economic status, etc. It also paints abuse at the hands of family members and lovers, turning their homes into haunted houses in the one place that’s supposed to be safe.

Letters shows another side to bullying in that the abused, without an outlet for their pain, can as easily turn their hurts onto someone else, using their clenched hands and sharp words to give love and hate. It’s a vicious cycle that must stop.

One specific thing I took from Letters is that as the adults, we are the ones who can lessen or end bullying. How we treat others starts at home, and our children learn most from what we teach and what they see from us. Beyond saying it gets better, how about we make it better. Show them they are more than what some bully says or does to them. Most of the former victims felt helpless and wondered, why me, and at the same time, wanted love more just as much as being rescued. When 160,000 bullied children miss school every day and bullying is the number one cause of suicide for 11-16 year olds, something has to be done.

Letters is what editors Asanti (The Bones Do Talk) and Kamau (Stiletto), accomplished authors and poets both with numerous titles, wanted to contribute to this epidemic. Kamau is the publisher and editor-in-chief of Glover Lane Press, which also published the co-edited Tapestries of Faith: Black SGLBT Stories of Triumph, Family, Love & Healing. The book’s flow was nicely paced and included statistics about bullying. The only weak spot was that some of the poetry didn’t grab me as much as the personal essays.

I’d recommend Letters to teens and adults, especially to in need of healing from their pasts. The most powerful message sent from Letters is that each one survived. There’s a great energy and almost small appreciation to what they went through to prove that anyone can overcome.

YOU DID NOT WIN. I am a fat lesbian (albeit a slimming one as I lose the need for protection) who loves herself and doesn’t give a damn what anyone says about her state of being. I love my body and love my experience of love as a lesbian. I am no longer trapped in the coffin of your bullying and while I do not believe good comes because of evil, I believe good comes despite evil. The good that came for me despite your evil words and deeds is that I am stronger, more vocal, more attentive and more resistant than I used to be, or than I ever guessed I would be.

Reviewed October 2013


BrookLyn’s Journey by Coffey Brown

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brooklynsjourneyncodPublisher/Date: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, June 2012
Genre(s): Young Adult, Coming of Age, Identity
Pages: 258
Website: http://www.coffeybrownbooks.com

Rating: ★★★☆☆ 

There were times reading BROOKLYN’S JOURNEY by Coffey Brown I didn’t quite know what to feel.

On one hand, it’s an affecting story about 18-year-old BrookLynn Scott living an abusive home. On the other hand, the unlikely love story surrounding her and Gabriella Michaels is almost like an fanciful fairy tale, because Gabby saves her in a way BrookLyn never thought possible – with unconditional love.

Growing up with a belt-swinging father and a snitch of a mother caring only to save herself, Brooklyn is trapped in her own house. She is the baby of the family, her brother and sisters long escaped, and her goal is to excel in high school so she can attend college far away from her parents. Since she wasn’t allowed out except to go to school or church, no parties and definitely no boys, her plan seemed attainable.

It also seems like fate when she runs into Gabby, and her church mate uses this chance to finally be with dream girl BrookLyn. As Gabby confesses her affection for the quiet girl in the choir and asks for her trust, BrookLyn imagines a life free of pain. With an inheritance and her own home at 19, Gabby woos BrookLyn with promises of love, protection and most of all, normal teenage experiences. In every step of their relationship, it appears impossible that BrookLyn has found someone who will love her, scars and all, but she holds on tight to this impossibility – because if not, what else does she have left?

I applaud Brown for the message she sends with BrookLyn’s Journey, because the questioning BrookLyn has about her sexuality is authentic to what some teenagers face when they’ve been sheltered and discover their first attraction to the same sex. Her portrayal of the horrid emotions of child emotional and physical abuse, as unfortunate as it sounds, was too real. I wanted BrookLyn to leave this house or to have someone, her older siblings especially, to take her away from her awful excuse for parents. No one would save the studious girl who missed days at school so her bruises wouldn’t be noticed.

Yet when that someone comes in the form of Gabby, I was skeptical at first. With everything BrookLyn’s been through, I didn’t want to see her hurt again, and I couldn’t wrap my mind around how quickly they fell for each other, more so Gabby. She is totally in love with BrookLyn, and I think being in her situation, BrookLyn was grabbing on to any life preserve she could find.

But the one thing I love about BrookLyn is that she’s resilient; she may not know what love is, but she surely knows what love isn’t. And that’s what she sees in Gabby – someone who won’t hurt her again. That kind of love is powerful, and I wish every child, neglected or not, has someone – whether a parent, teacher, aunt or uncle, best friend or significant other – she can receive that kind of love from.

There are other things about BrookLyn’s Journey – the sometimes awkward dialogue, the plausibility of the love affair – that I question, but Brown does a decent job giving BrookLyn a voice that teenagers will undoubtedly relate to and cheer for.

Reviewed October 2013

About Coffey Brown

Stacey Pierce aka Coffey Brown was born and raised in Orange County, New York. She graduated from the University of Arkansas-Pine Bluff, Fairleigh Dickinson University and New York University. She has been a social worker for almost twenty years. Stacey will be publishing fiction and non-fiction books in various genres hence the pen name. However, she will be using the pen name for LGBT fiction. She recently relocated to the Charlotte area with her partner of fourteen years. BrookLyn’s Journey is her first novel, followed by The Awakening of Graye Moon.


Soft Tsunami by Claudia Moss (Oct. 2013 Pick of the Month)

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softtsunamipotmlogoPublisher/Date: Mariposa Publications, Sept. 2012
Genre(s): Poetry
Pages: 126
Website: http://claudiamoss.webs.com

Rating: ★★★★☆ 

Who is Claudia Moss?

I’ve been asking myself that since I read her novel, If You Love Me, Come in 2011. I was so in love with that book, the troubles of four women connected and intersected by the power of love. Its similar style to one of my all-time favorite books, Mama Day by Gloria Naylor, intrigued me to learn more about its creator.

In my discovery, I found Miss Moss, also known as the Golden Goddess to be a storyteller, a word weaver, a mama, a mentor, a radio host and most of all, a poet.

Based on her newest work, SOFT TSUNAMI, I could say she’s something of an enigma, but that wouldn’t be accurate because her poems lay out her maturity, her sensualness, her grown woman assertiveness. There’s nothing in her words that can be interpreted as meek or mild, only confidence, and that’s what I loved most about her book.

So I touch you softer than quill skimming rice paper
A message of calligraphy teasingly rough
Sighs in the taste of us
Transcribed in wetness
Before an indelicate deluge
Squirts
Across my body
To dry in dainty spots on your Soul
Touch-tethered to mine

Reading her poems, I also call her a whirlwind. There’s a flurry of emotions, sensations and passions that speak to and for any femme confident in her sexuality, and her love for the womanly form is mesmerizing. Studs, take notice of this femme form:

‘Cause you don’t know what to kiss first
her smooth sexy feet
those cheeks, Oooh those cheeks
have you humming stupid yummy tunes
about her tight crescent moons
dipped in a sepia glaze
her waist lining towards her cute kitty

Her style may scream raw, but she also can give and receive love, and is humble in its presence.

Others bow to
Wondering how we two
Share a current so rare
So true
You see, I recite her
And she–
She interprets me.

But don’t get it twisted. Just like a raging tide, Moss can batter your heart with a line so venomous, you’d wish you hadn’t crossed her.

i’m not frightened of the walkin’ away
and don’t think the way you lay the pipe is yo’ ticket to say
ladies already lined up to play
with the goddess you took for granted
like the door don’t swing both ways

Yet above all, Moss is a Lyrical Lady, her Soft Tsunami celebrating and opining the life of a woman who has is living a full life, but steady embracing what the universe continues to teach her.

Tender-hearted, sometimes I bow to tongues sharpened on the
cutting board, but I am my own unguent, my Band-Aid
against the lacerating wounds of the mouth, when I remember
I AM.
Today I live the lessons I teach.
I am untamed, free.
I do what I want to do, say what I want to say,
indiscriminately.

So this is Claudia Moss. Lover of natural hair, butches, Backwoods women, and fine literature. While her words may be slightly repetitive, with Soft Tsunami, she wants you to know whom she is. Now I can truly say I do.

Reviewed October 2013

Read the Pick of the Month Interview With Claudia Moss

About Claudia Moss

Claudia Moss is the author of two novels, Dolly: The Memoirs of a High School Graduate (her Holloway House debut, adolescent novel) and If You Love Me, Come (her latest, self-published novel). Her short fiction has appeared in a host of anthologies including Longing, Lust, and Love: Black Lesbian Stories (Nghosi Books), Gietic: Erotic Poems/Kinky Short Stories (Gia Bella & The Siren), The Lust Chronicles (e-book), The Hoot & Holler of the Owls (Hurston/Wright Publications), Purple Panties (Strebor Books), SWING!: Adventures in Swinging By Today’s Top Erotica Writers (Logical-Lust Publications), Life, Love & Lust and Her Voice: poetry (Lesbian Memoirs). Her poetry has also appeared in Venus Magazine. She is also the author of the independently published Wanda B. Wonders series, which introduces the enigmatic Everywoman, Ms. Wanda B., who is a humorous social commentary, unafraid to voice her opinions on contemporary life in shades of black and white.


Technical Difficulties by Lee Loveless

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technicaldifficultiesPublisher/Date:  Lee Loveless, March 2013
Genre(s):  Romance, Erotica
Pages:  33

Rating: ★★★☆☆ 

The Plot:  TECHNICAL DIFFICULTIES by Lee Loveless establishes that if your cell phone technician looked like Raquel – an olive-toned beauty with hazel eyes – you’d probably find any reason to visit the Verizon store every day. Jackson, though, somehow remains all business around Raquel; she finds Raquel alluring, but too young at 25. At 32 years old, Jackson is a determined, hard-working director of a youth center, who doesn’t take time to smell the roses (or anything else for that matter). Her assistant director, Sharon, is the one who makes her recognize what she’s about miss out on. Can this do-gooder put her grant applications aside long enough to take advantage of another equally satisfying proposition?

The Good:  It’s not just about the sex. Technical Difficulties gives a great back story to the lovers, so that we can see just how much of a workaholic Jackson is or how long Raquel aspired to be an engineering tech. Raquel is a bawse; while Jackson deems Raquel too young for her, but Raquel knows her mind and her worth. She’s a definite catch – one that maybe Jackson ain’t ready for. Throughout Difficulties, the relationship between Raquel and Jackson moves at a good pace for a short story, and Loveless also has a good ear for dialogue.

The Not-So-Good:  The grammar could use some work. Sharon, as the voice of reason for Jackson, can come off a little bawdy sometimes. Though explosively gratifying (ahem…), the ending was abrupt – only because I could have read more about these two.

The Bottom Line: Technical Difficulties, the first of the Happily Ever After series, is willing and able to give you the romantic fix you need. I’m looking forward to devouring more of what Loveless has to offer.

Reviewed September 2013


The Gerbera Series: The Preludes, Clear Sense and The Sweetness by Ninamaste MaTuri

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Publisher/Date:  Lulu.com, Mar. 2011 (The Preludes); Nov. 2011 (Clear Sense); May 2013 (The Sweetness)
Genre(s):  Young Adult, Coming of Age
Pages:   56 (The Preludes); 78 (Clear Sense); 96 (The Sweetness)
Website:  http://www.ninamastematuri.com

The Preludes:★★★½☆ 
Clear Sense:★★★★☆ 
The Sweetness:★★★★☆ 

Ninamaste MaTuri’s The Gerbera series has all the makings of childhood love, pain and laughter – and at the helm are Melanie, Adrianna and Nicole, three very unique girls diverged on the path to womanhood.

thepreludesTHE PRELUDES is just the beginning. It takes one back to your early school days: experiencing first crushes, attempting to fit in, and realizing your parents can be either a best friend or a major disappointment. It introduces tomboy Melanie, mother’s baby Adrianna and lovelorn Nicole, all wishing for something much needed in their lives. Melanie, with a white mother and black father, would like to accepted and not out of place in her class, being the only brown face with a lopsided Afro, and a cousin who teases her because of it; things begin looking up when her new teacher, with deeply brown skin and wavy black hair, comes into her classroom. Adrianna’s story starts at her mother’s funeral; after the service, the grief of missing her mother is exacerbated by father’s womanizing ways. Nicole’s father, on the other hand, is the shield against her mother’s unhappiness of Nicole’s masculine demeanor, but daydreams of Crystal help soothe her mother’s harsh words.

The Bottom Line:  Although each story is told very quickly, The Preludes sets itself up well to continue the girls’ journey. While Melanie stood out as a leader, I was enthralled most by Nicole, whose resilience to be herself and her relationship with her father shine. On the other hand, it’s evident Adrianna has a long road ahead of her, and she’s is the one I connect to the least.

clearsenseThe trip continues with CLEAR SENSE, and as the girls are now teenagers, their issues and desires become deeper. The novella reminds you of how intense we all felt about our problems at that age (or so it seems), that we would do anything to have what we want. Melanie’s secret admiration of Tiffany seems to be in vain, because Tiffany thinks the loving gestures are the work of her boyfriend, and Melanie has to concoct a plan to show her how she feels; will she finally get her dream girl? Adrianna has had it up to here with her father’s casual treatment of women since losing her mother, made even more apparent when Adrianna believes she’s found the guy she thinks could be the one. Can she really trust him? Nicole spends most of Clear Sense hiding her true feelings for Crystal, and at the same time being a good friend to her. Will her concern of Crystal lead her to something more?

The Bottom Line:  Clear Sense is a good continuation of the Gerbera series, and we are privy to Adrianna and Nicole’s aches, and Melanie’s antics with her cousins. It’s the more humorous of the series. Yet they all have more growing up to do, though, especially Melanie, who realizes something important in her pursuit of Tiffany. Watching them go through it is worth the transition you see in the next book in the series.

thesweetnessThe third book in the Gerbera series, THE SWEETNESS, is just that, but I would venture to add it’s a tad bittersweet. The girls are now young adults, living in the real world with bills, marriage and college on their minds. Melanie, now working hard at a 9-to-5, has a model for a girlfriend and enjoys the perks that come with having a beautiful woman on her arm; too bad it’s someone else she shares sparks with. Adrianna wants to move from her tragic past to a future with Thaddeus, the love she met in Clear Sense. It’s the first man in her life, her father, she has to heal her heart with in order to give her all to Thaddeus. College-bound Nicole has found the sweetness with Shelia who loves her unconditionally after Crystal’s absence. All seems to be bright in her life until her mother makes an unexpected appearance. She’s a tough cookie, though, and knows it’s something greater in store than what’s in her past.

The Bottom Line: The Sweetness is the best of the three novellas in that plots are fleshed out and we see a superb progression from the girls’ upbringing to adulthood. I see Melanie and Adrianna slowly learning how to love. Nicole, though, is the one I rooted for the most because she grew from a broken home and her mother’s abuse to a confident young lady through her father’s love. The Sweetness is also the book where characters from each girl’s story merge together. MaTuri promises more in her next book – centered around family planning – and I’m waiting to see what lessons life will teach these women next.

Reviewed September 2013

Read the Meet This Sistah Interview with Ninamaste MaTuri

About Ninamaste MaTuri

Ninamaste MaTuri was born in southern California. She lived in various cities throughout her early years. San Francisco was one of her favorites because of its diversity. Her family relocated to Minnesota when she was in middle school. She currently resides in Minnesota.

Ninamaste enjoys writing, and hopes to continue writing stories. She also enjoys hiking, visiting museums, and traveling, in her spare time.


37 Things I Love (in no particular order) by Kekla Magoon

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37thingsiloveoldPublisher/Date:  Henry Holt and Co. (BYR), May 2012
Genre(s):  Young Adult
Pages:   224
Website:  http://www.keklamagoon.com

Rating: ★★★½☆ 

Summertime is what most high school students look forward after a year of homework, teachers and exams. Ever walk down a school hallway after the final bell has rung on the last of day school? You might get mowed down.

For Ellis, though, the summer means spending more time with her friends, but most especially with her father, still in a coma after a work accident two years prior. She currently skips her first period class just to see him, though he can’t hear or notice she’s there. Her father’s condition is also a source of contention between Ellis and her mother, believing it’s time to take him off life support. Ellis knows he will wake up one day, and become the man she remembers, take her on new adventures, reassert himself as no. 1 of one of the 37 things in her life she loves.

Most of the 37 things – from goldfish crackers to warm chocolate chip cookies to rain on a stain-glass window – in some way remind her of her father or the void he leaves in her life.

One thing she loves, her best friend Abby, manages to distract her, whether it’s telling Ellis about her million and one boyfriends or sneaking her out to a party, which turns out to be one crazy night (it involves jello – that is all). Abby’s selfishness is a welcome distraction so she won’t have to think about how strained things are with her mother or the therapist she forces Ellis to see. But her shallowness slowly becomes the thing that makes them drift apart because Abby can’t relate to Ellis’ family woes. But one person can.

Cara. Both Abby and Ellis’ former best friend became estranged from them for reasons unknown to Ellis. Chalk it up to high school differences, but when her and Cara reconnect, Ellis discovers how much she missed their friendship; it gives her the warmth she needs to deal with her so-called life. Their connection also sparks something tenuous between them that Ellis isn’t sure she can handle right now, but doesn’t want to lose — even if it means giving up Abby.

37 Things I Love (in no particular order) is heart-wrenching, because as a daughter who’s lost her own father, I can empathize with Ellis. It’s tough to watch the man who seemed like the strongest man person in the world, wither away, and on that note, I got Ellis. But there were times I felt I didn’t get enough into Ellis’ head, and I wasn’t too keen on how Abby took advantage of Ellis and never offered much in return. In a lot of the book, Ellis is a pushover, the only real fight she shows is battling her mom to take her dad off life support. The brightest spot comes in Ellis possibly discovering love for the first time with Cara; it’s sincere and sweet. Magoon captures Ellis’ confusion well, and the end of 37 Things may find you caring for just one more thing.

Reviewed August 2013

About Kekla Magoon

Kekla Magoon is the author of four young adult novels: Camo Girl, 37 Things I Love, Fire in the Streets, and The Rock and the River, for which she received the ALA Coretta Scott King New Talent Award and an NAACP Image Award nomination. She also writes non-fiction on historical topics, including Today the World is Watching You: The Little Rock Nine and the Fight for School Integration 1957-58 and the forthcoming PANTHERS! The History and Legacy of the Black Panther Party in America. Raised in a biracial family in the Midwest, Kekla now teaches writing in New York City, conducts school and library visits nationwide, and serves on the board of VIDA: Women in Literary Arts. Kekla holds a B.A. in History from Northwestern University and an M.F.A. in Writing from Vermont College of Fine Arts. Visit her online at www.keklamagoon.com.


SistaGirl by Anondra “Kat” Williams

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sistagirlPublisher/Date:  Black Ink, July 2013
Genre(s):  Romance, Short Story, Poetry
Pages:  172
Website:  http://www.anondrawilliams.com

Rating: ★★★¾☆ 

A Southern woman is a delicacy: defined as a delicious, rare, or highly prized item of food; pleasing subtlety in something such as taste, smell, or color; or the quality of being easily damaged or broken.

All these qualities are revealed reading SISTAGIRL from Anondra “Kat” Williams, also author of black girl love. Her newest collection of stories and poems picks up where black girl love left off, but adds an extra pinch of down-home charm. For a girl like Williams, born and bred in Mississippi, this volume of Southern sensibilities is her bread-and-butter, her calling card. She knows the South, and she definitely knows women.

I saw it when I read the title story, about loving your sista no matter whom she loves, and in “Saturday Mornings,” recalling the memories of Mama and her friends gossiping and commiserating around the table over cups of coffee, at a time when children were to hush when grown folks are talking. It’s also clear in “Southern Living,” narrated by a Northerner loving a “Mississippi thick girl” with hot grits ready every Sunday.

One of the biggest themes in SistaGirl is growth, as a woman and in relationships, a trip back to the girl you used to be, and the woman you are now. Tales such as “Years” recount the affair between a woman in love and a woman who doesn’t want to be caught, realizing one can come back home. In “Firsts” and “15,” the evolution of love is shown, the former being first loves, and the latter growing older together. I reveled in the coziness of the poem, “morning,” reminding me with talks in the arms of your soulmate.

Like a side of buttered cornbread next to your collard greens, the drama finagles its way to the plate in SistaGirl, as well. Stories of crazy love (“Time”), domestic abuse (“Roses”), and dating women with husbands (“How You Get’em”) round out this set. And lest you worry, there’s some “good joog” in there also, with a stimulating game of “Tic-tac-toe” that I need to, ahem, play one of these nights.

Her bonuses, “Top 10 Rules for Being a Lesbian” and “The 11 Lesbians You Will Meet in Your Lifetime”, are humourously spot-on. Williams also includes a except from her upcoming fall 2014 novel, Pat Greene, which I’m looking forward to.

Williams’ SistaGirl exposes the hearts of real women. I found her stories to be exceedingly true in sentiment, but a little slack on the editing. A couple of stories ended abruptly that I wanted to see continue, or at least be fleshed out further. That aside, SistaGirl is all the women in your life, and may be you. And the love of good woman is hard to beat.

Reviewed August 2013

Read the Catching Up With… Interview with Anondra “Kat Williams

About Anondra “Kat” Williams

Anondra “Kat” Williams is writer, poet, radio host and all around lover of words. Her first foray into writing was black girl love released in 2011 and her second book SistaGirl released August 2013. Both are a collection of short stories and poetry, detailing everyday love and life between women who love women.

Kat’s work is currently featured in the anthologies Life, Love & Lust 1 & 2 a collection of short stories & Her Voice a collection of poetry. She will also be in the soon to be released Geechee to Gumbo: Black Southern Womanloving Culture & Politics and G.R.I.T.S: Girls Raised In The South – An Anthology on Southern Queer Womyns’ Voices and Their Allies.

In 2009 she started Shades Retreat: Personal, You. Shades Retreat is a empowerment, growth and change retreat for queer women of color. Shades Retreat occurs once a year during the third week of April.