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.


Between Right and Wrong by S. Stephens

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

Rating: ★★★★☆ 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[rating-report]

 Reviewed Month 2014

About S. Stephens

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


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

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

Rating: ★★★★☆ 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reviewed February 2014

About Cheryl Clarke

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.


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.


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.


Dying to Live by Harmonie Reigns

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dyingtolivePublisher/Date:  CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, Mar. 2013
Genre(s):  Abuse, Drama, Romance
Pages:  224
Website:  http://harmoniereigns.wix.com/harmonie#!

Rating: ★★★½☆ 

Why is it that everyone can see the signs but you? Or do you see and ignore the red flags?

Is it cute how she dotes on you, asks you when you’ll be home, always wants to know your constant whereabouts? Or is it suffocating but you don’t know the way out?

Can she make love to you like no other, toe-tingling, mind-blowing sex that tells you just how much she loves you? Or is that just the calm before the storm, or it’s to make up for the blows she sent to your face earlier?

It was all those things and more for Naomi Harris in DYING TO LIVE,  the newest novel from Harmonie Reigns. Naomi is pursued by the charming Sheena at the party of one of best friends, and soon after is enamored of the way she’s treated by the soft stud in the beginning of their relationship. (What she should have done was take stock of how pushy Sheena was in pursuing her at the party.)

Of course, Sheena has her game-face on, sending flowers, cards, candy and jewelry to her office, making Naomi the envy of her friends. It was charming how attentive Sheena is, popping up at work to take her to lunch or to see Naomi’s beautiful face, but Naomi begins to feel suffocated by the attention. And she realizes she’s spending less and less time with her loved ones, her family and group of five best friends: Lynzi, Tina, Star, Dena, and Zela.

Of the five, Zela is one who recognizes Naomi’s predicament and knows something ain’t right with Sheena. She sees the signs of an abusive relationship, because she’s been there. Naomi knows it, too, but writes off Sheena’s behavior as “caring.” “She just doesn’t want to lose me.” “Maybe I was wrong.” Anything to justify Sheena’s atrocious behavior.

Yet after cracked ribs, a broken nose and being cheated on, Naomi finally has enough — and that’s when the real game begins for Sheena. She always told Naomi that if she couldn’t have her, no one else will. And she means it. Which also means that Naomi is in a fight to get her life back, even if she has to take one in the process.

Dying to Live is a very involved book, one that portrays the fallout of an abusive relationship and what it does not only to a woman’s pyche, but how it affects the woman’s family and friends. Naomi is lucky she has a big support system, as some battered women do not. Naomi’s friends, who each have a personality all her own, added life to a story made somber by the dark subject matter. Dying can be a tad melodramatic at times and the writing could be tighter, but Reigns deftly details the emotions and thoughts of a battered woman trying to put her life back together.

Reviewed July 2013


I am Your Sister: Season 2 by Ericka K. F. Simpson

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iamyoursister2-2Publisher/Date:  EKS Books, Apr. 2013
Genre(s):  Romance, Religious, Family, Stud’s Point of View
Pages:  287
Website:  http://www.ekfsimpson.com

Rating: ★★★★★ 

Forgiveness. An 11-letter word whose concept is hard to give and even harder to do.

It is also Symone Holmes’ Achilles heel, and the emotional theme flowing through Ericka K. F. Simpson’s I AM YOUR SISTER: SEASON 2. The college basketball star is all grown up in the sequel to the previous I am Your Sister, but she learns life gets harder out of school and off the court.

At the novel’s start, Symone has a female b-baller’s dream: she’s the top draft pick for the WNBA,  about to graduate college, and considering forever with the love of her life, Regina. Nothing could make the point guard happier. Then she gets a phone call that her mother has had a stroke – and it brings her unhappy history with her mother front and center.

The relationship between Symone and her mother Paula became rocky the summer before her sophomore year in high school when it was “discovered” that Symone liked girls. Through flashbacks, a flood of painful memories continue to haunt Symone, reliving her mother practically disowning her. Paula refused to acknowledge her daughter’s lesbianism, and their bond disintegrated to zero contact. Moving on with her life, it took being away at school for Symone to put the past behind her but she never forgave her mother or herself.

This guilt takes its toll on her relationship with Regina in ways Symone didn’t realize. It’s the answer to why she is never able to fully open up. Why she feels she couldn’t bring Regina home to her family. Why never she allows Regina to share in her past hurts. Really, Symone could blame her generational curse for her inability to share her emotions, passed on from the male elders in her family, but she knows she can’t rely on excuses when both her mom and her future wife need her. It’s time to truly play ball, and this time, she needs this victory to heal her heart.

I’ve mentioned before that I am Your Sister is one of my favorite books, mainly because Symone is such a complex character. Simpson puts her everything into Symone, and after reading her memoir, Living With 3 Strikes (which you should definitely pick up), I understand how Simpson is inspired by her own experiences in IAYS2. This gives Symone the touch of realism that I’ve come to expect from this writer.

Symone is deeply-drawn, far from perfect, and trying on her adulthood with the help of God. She doesn’t pretend to be something she’s not and doesn’t apologize for whom she is. There’s also a down-home appeal to this Virginia-reared stud, one I found refreshing.

I am Your Sister 2 does have its minor flaws –  the ending left me flabbergasted – but between the laughter and the “wows” I had while reading convinced me that I will always have a soft spot for Symone Holmes.

Now I’m ready for another season.

Reviewed May 2013


Once and Future Lovers by Sheree L. Greer (Dec. 2012 Pick of the Month)

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Publisher/Date:  CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, June 2012
Genre(s):  Romance, Short Story
Pages:  118
Website:  http://www.shereelgreer.com

Rating: ★★★★★ 

Love.

The four letter word conjures so many images and thoughts and emotions that can be hard to express.

Sheree L. Greer captures the sentiments beautifully in her short story collection, ONCE AND FUTURE LOVERS. Her book highlights the simplest and most complicated forms of affection from the romantic to the familial, to the straight to same-sex varieties.

And it all flows like butter.

Once begins with a tender story, “I Do All My Own Stunts,” as a woman lives the metaphor of “getting back on the bike” to find love again. To her, the feeling of flying when in love is worth the tumble and pain one may have to endure – and she can’t wait to experience it again.

“The Beginning of Something” is truly an old-fashioned love story. Arthur Turner meets a seemingly virtuous woman named Christine. She’s stunning, but at 26, has never been married and doesn’t want to leave home. Arthur, having lived a tough life, desires to see the world and intriguingly finds this same quality in someone else – Iris, Christine’s sister.

It all comes full circle in “Dreaming Woman,” a heartwarmer about Zaire and her two loves: Daryan, her best friend, unaware of Zaire’s passion for her; and her grandmother, Mama Iris, who Zaire lovingly takes care of and enjoys spending time with. Two different kinds of love, but the admiration Zaire has for Mama Iris bolsters her courage to declare her love for Daryan and allow her into her world.

Once and Future Lovers can be considered an exceptional debut novel. The narration of each story exudes genuine human interactions that are relatable to any sexuality, race or gender. Love can’t be defined by those things, and Greer presents this knowledge in a splendid way.

Reviewed December 2012


Inside Out by Juin Charnell

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insideoutPublisher/Date:  CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, Oct. 2011
Genre(s):  Romance, Suspense
Pages:  148
Website:  http://juincharnell.blogspot.com

Rating: ★★★★☆ 

Being a black lesbian prison investigator ain’t easy. Ask Lieutenant Perri Stone.

Between the rape of a prisoner at the maximum-security Dexter Correctional Facility and her home life exploding, she can’t catch a break in INSIDE OUT, the first in the Perri Stone series by Juin Charnell.

In addition to the rape, Perri also has to figure out why her inmates are being murdered. Of course, the convicts aren’t talking, and a couple of the officers are proving their incompetence. Perri’s worked in this system for 12 years, enough to know who to trust. Back then, as a 5’4”, Afro-wearing, 20-year-old officer, she gained the respect of the male prisoners and fellow employees alike by taking her licks and not being afraid to get dirty. Now at 32, there wasn’t much you could get past Perri Stone.

Her homelife, though, is a different ball of wax. Perri’s partner, Cassidy, is somewhat in the closet, and on top of that, has issues with her ex-husband who is determined to kidnap their daughter because of her relationship with Perri. It also doesn’t help that Cassidy’s mother meddles in their affairs.

Through it all, Perri stays cool as a cucumber; it seems nothing fazes her. It’s part of her charm – and what makes Inside Out interesting.

Charnell herself is a 10-year veteran in Corrections, writing Inside Out with authority and no-nonsense flair. Based on her novel’s realistic and gritty view of prison life, I’m motivated to read the sequel, Quiet Riot.

You will be, too.

Reviewed December 2012


Girl in the Mirror by Alix B. Golden (Aug. 2012 Pick of the Month)

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Publisher/Date:  I Bleed Ink Publishing, Aug. 2012
Genre:  Romance
Pages:   204
Website:  http://www.alixbgolden.com

Rating: ★★★★½ 

You can’t run from your past, and you certainly can’t run from the GIRL IN THE MIRROR.

While the prequel to this novel, Girl, Shattered, is available now, Mirror is its full-length story from blogger turned book author Alix B. Golden with many layers – a surprise love, suspense, drama, parental woes – yet the center of them is Christen Calhoun. The by-day bank teller is uninspired by her job and only finds comfort in her camera; it doesn’t pay the bills, and it doesn’t suit her father’s dreams for her.

Neither does dating women. Especially the ones Christen involves herself with. Still reeling from her last burn with thieving ass Alicia, she decides a no-strings attached relationship is exactly what she needs in Kam, a writer she meets online with a girlfriend. Christen sees nothing wrong with the two having a fling. At least that’s how it begins. It ends just as badly.

*girl in the mirror shakes her head*

Christen could never tell her Pops about these dead-end hookups. Since a young girl, it’s always been just the two of them after her mother’s passing. He never understood her decisions – staying in Savannah after graduation instead of returning to Atlanta, why she couldn’t find a man and make him a “Grandpappy” – nevertheless he did want to see her happy.

The problem is Christen can’t please herself. She suits her personality to the women she dates, and every bad romance she gets her further away from whom she is. When she looks in the mirror, the truth stares back, but then loneliness sets in and fools her heart into thinking it’s love.

It’s only when the worst imaginable happens that Christen returns home to find the love she needs – and makes the girl in mirror finally smile back.

Golden’s Girl in the Mirror shines. What I liked most about Mirror is its dimensionality. The storyline took several twists and turns, tying nicely to make an enjoyable novel. In Christen, you see a woman with so much potential go from settling to avoid being alone to realizing her true reflection is what’s important.

Reviewed August 2012


Accept the Unexpected by L. Cherelle

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accepttheunexpectedPublisher/Date:  Resolute Publishing, May 2011
Genre:  Romance
Pages:  216
Website:  http://www.respublishing.com

Rating: ★★★★½ 

I wish more black lesbian relationships operated with the reality found between the covers of ACCEPT THE UNEXPECTED.

The truth may have come at the wrong time, but the sentiment was not lost on Keleya Smith.

Author L. Cherelle’s debut novel skillfully portrays the fallout from Keleya’s failed relationship as she slowly nurtures a new one.

Keleya and Kris were in a long-term relationship when Keleya asks Kris to leave their home after discovering some incriminating texts. She’s devastated to lose her lover of four years, yet has plenty to occupy her time. Her job, hobbies, and most especially, her colorful family and friends keep her mind off Kris.

Then another distraction comes in the form of Jordan, whom she’s set up with by a mutual friend. The brown-skinned, handsome stud’s looks and personality entice Keleya, but she wisely gets to know Jordan little by little, instead of instantly hopping into bed. She enjoys Jordan’s laid-back demeanor and wants to be sure before giving her body and her heart away again.

It’s uncomplicated with Jordan – getting over Kris is not. Keleya can admit to herself that there’s still some baggage left with her old flame, and she’s trying hard not to entangle Jordan in the healing of her old wounds. Can her heart make room for Jordan?

Moving on from a long-time love and starting something new is neither simple, nor painless. But L. Cherelle builds a character that reveals her baggage, accepts the way things are, and gets to know herself at the same time. I also admired Keleya’s dedication to her family and friends, who pluck her last nerves. Keleya is a great character, and L. Cherelle does a great job with the entire Unexpected cast.

The ending, though obvious, was deeply satisfying. The honesty rang true.

Like I said, I wish more black lesbians would do the same.

Reviewed January 2012


Making Our Difference by Ericka K. F. Simpson

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makingourdifferencePublisher/Date:  EKS Books, Dec. 2009
Genre(s):  Romance, Family, Marriage
Pages:  184
Website:  http://www.ekfsimpson.com

Rating: ★★★★½ 

Monogamy isn’t easy. MAKING OUR DIFFERENCE, by Ericka K. F. Simpson, does it brilliantly.

In her third novel and the sequel to In Fear of Losing You, four lesbian couples deal with the ups and downs of monogamy and marriage, illness and faith, and parenthood. The women, united in genuine friendship, are bonded as family also because of the way the world perceives their sexuality.

If you remember Sweets from In Fear, she was the optimistic romantic. Now in new relationship with Janet, a single mother, she has the love she longed for. But as they get closer, Janet struggles with her sexuality while Sweets is left waiting for the woman of her dreams. Will Janet ultimately see that Sweets is the one?

Kat, a reformed player, has settled down with Cheyenne and made a success of her company, The Whole of Delaware. As she builds the 24-hour sports and activities center into a franchise, can she and Cheyenne truly have it all?

Happiness has shed its graces on Lex and wife Ayanna, their life almost perfect with one child and a new baby on the way, until Lex is diagnosed with cancer. Is their love strong enough to carry them through this rough time, especially with Lex’s family in opposition to their marriage?

Lastly, Genius and Ciara had a playful connection before, and are trying to make it exclusive. Will Genius trust her heart to Ciara, who’s been with several before (including Kat)?

Simpson weaves an excellent yarn in Making Our Difference with a well-drawn cast. God plays a big role in their lives, as well, an aspect that blends nicely (not doggedly) with the plot. The alternative ending is also great touch. The only negative in Difference is the excessive clothing descriptions.

That being said, Simpson nails the characters, and that makes all the difference.

Reviewed February 2011


M+O 4EVR by Tonya Hegamin (Aug. 2010 Pick of the Month)

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m+o4everPublisher/Date:  Houghton Mifflin, Apr. 2008
Genre(s):  Romance, Coming Of Age, Young Adult
Pages:  176
Website:  http://www.tonyacheriehegamin.com

Rating: ★★★★★ 

The dreams we have as children are very powerful, involving fearless feats and aspirations we carry to adulthood, cradled in the hope that the dreams will become reality.

That’s what Opal anticipated when she made the decision to take her best friend, Marianne, away from their small-town life in M+O 4 EVR. The novel from Tonya Marie Hegamin relates an emotional excursion of what happens when wishes are deferred by life’s disappointments.

Best friends, Marianne and Opal’s bond was an unspoken one, full of longing and hurt and not-so-unrequited love. The girls lived in their Pennsylvania town as outcasts, the only few Black faces in the mountainous county. They only had each other, as little girls who held hands on their first day of school, a shield from the world that couldn’t possibly understand them.

Home is where their hearts are. Opal is raised by sassy Gran while her parents travel to provide for her; Marianne lived with her white mother and grandfather, and never knew her black father. Their families were intertwined and nurtured the girls’ closeness. They were privy to the love Opal had for Marianne, though it was never said – even to Marianne herself.

While Marianne has some idea of Opal’s feelings for her, she can’t see past her own pain to reciprocate. Marianne felt lost in her own skin and never wanted to accept her “loser” status assigned based on her light complexion. She strived to be popular, one of the cool kids. And eventually she did attain the crown – becoming the first black homecoming queen – at the expense of leaving her best friend behind. The victory was short-lived when only hours later, a tragedy strikes Marianne, and all the dreams Opal had for them dissipate.

All Opal wanted was have Marianne to herself, in the way she did when they danced through the milkweeds, carved their names into their favorite tree, or pressed lips together under the blackberry bushes. Now all she’s left with is painful memories and theories on how things got to this point. For Opal, her ache came from knowing what they could have been. But with her future in her hands, she soon discovered things happen for a reason.

The sentiments M+O 4 EVR are sweet, raw and heartfelt. Who can’t relate to the story of innocent love and the slings and arrows of growing up? Hegamin writes about loss and love, while also tying in the spirit of a runaway slave to anchor the tale to how much we sacrifice for the love of one person.

However in the end, we and Opal learn taking care of ourselves is what’s most important.

Reviewed August 2010


From the Notebooks of Melanin Sun by Jacqueline Woodson (Aug-Sept. 2006 Pick of the Month)

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Publisher/Date:  Puffin, July 2010
Genre(s):  Young Adult, Family, Lesbian Parents
Pages:  160
Website:  http://www.jacquelinewoodson.com

Rating: ★★★★★ 

Black lesbians with children take note: FROM THE NOTEBOOKS OF MELANIN SUN is a must-read book. The compelling novel follows Melanin Sun, a 13-year-old dealing with the complexities of adolescence and his mother’s newfound sexuality.

It’s summertime, and Melanin is looking forward to the finer things in life: hanging with friends Ralphael and Sean, pursuing his crush on Angie, and writing his innermost thoughts in his treasured notebooks.

But what he looks forward to and treasures most is spending time with his mother Encanta, a single mother working hard to make a living for her child. The two are inseparable, leaning on each other through the best and worst of times and having a mother-son bond so deep they know each other’s moods and the simplest of facial expressions.

Melanin’s perfect relationship is demolished, though, when day at the beach ends with Encanta revealing she’s gay—and in love with a white woman. This piece of earth-shattering news devastates Melanin to no end. He can’t imagine that his mother could ever fall in love with a woman, and a white woman at that.

The one thing that helps him is his notebook. There Melanin pours out his heart, recording every emotion he’s feeling: from anger to shame, from frustration to understanding. It helps him slowly work out the issues with his Encanta, the shyness he feels over approaching Angie, and the ruined friendship with Sean once he finds out his mother’s a lesbian. As the story concludes, Melanin realizes that life doesn’t get easier as you grow up, only more complicated as the days go by.

Woodson approaches From the Notebooks of Melanin Sun with a great understanding of what it’s like to be a young black male and the sentiments of dealing with a gay parent. She makes you see the issues a child can have with your coming out, and how to survive it. As always with Woodson, the writing is superb, and the novel is heartwarming and real, a story with even a small page number manages to have an impact. Children and parents alike should read this with open eyes and an open heart – they both could learn more than they realize.

Reviewed Aug-Sept 2006