Favorite SOTS Books Read in 2015

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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10.     Azure BLU: The Royal Saga by Feral Kitty

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


Books 2 Check Out – April 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

I Should’ve Cheated by TJ Rose
Romance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not Otherwise Specified by Hannah Moskowitz
Young Adult

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

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

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

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

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

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

Safe Haven by B. L. Wilson
Romance, Suspense

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

Southern Comfort by Skyy
Romance

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

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

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


Royal BLU by Feral Kitty

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royalbluPublisher/Date:  CreateSpace, Oct. 2012
Genre(s):  Romance, Drama
Pages:  362

Rating: ★★★☆☆ 

It all started on a Friday night in ROYAL BLU. A simple start to the weekend that begins DJ Royal and her three closest friends on a long, wild expedition to love and drama.

Bold, italics, and underline on the drama.

Taking center stage in author Feral Kitty’s debut novel is Royal Ann Hanson, a 27-year old DJ still living at home with her grandparents and her 11-year-old daughter from a teenage relationship. With beautiful golden brown skin, slim athletic frame and long brown cornrows, she’s a magnet for the ladies, straight or lesbian, attached or single. While she may use them for what they offer, she also knows she’s not ready for a real relationship. Royal is content with life, her friends, her car (a vintage candy-apple red 1970 Cadillac Coupe de Ville), and her job at Club BLU, but recognizes that she needs a true equal; and she finds a worthy opponent in Asia, her best friend’s roommate.

Despite their age difference, Royal and 20-year-old Tiana are best friends, and Ti looks to Royal as a role model of sorts; her own stud swagger is owed to watching Royal’s antics. Her come-ons pay off on that fated Friday night when Ti has an affair with someone outside the stud-femme box, but Ti worries more about what her best friend will think instead of letting herself fall.

KC, though, fell for the completely wrong woman, and everyone knows it. Her girlfriend, Ebony, is too rowdy for this white butch lesbian, who’s always had a thing for sistahs. Her friends want her leave Ebony’s melodramatics behind and see past her fighting, cheating, and abusive ways. On some level, KC is waiting for the love she longs for from Ebony. Yet how long to is too love to love yourself?

Paul, owner of Club BLU, is the older voice of reason in the foursome. In a 17-year relationship with wife Candi, they find raising a daughter working full time doesn’t allow much time for romance. Paul stays true to their love, but that’s not to say temptations don’t find her every now and again.

Royal BLU is, on one level, an entertaining, comical novel that you can’t put down. On another, it needs a lot of polishing – with punctuation and grammar especially – to make it a great novel. The characters were a hot mess a times, but truth be told, we all know people like them (or at least I did in my 20s). In its favor, Royal BLU brings up a few issues in our community about labels and slut-shaming that are important, and also shows flaws from both sides of the femme-stud dynamic.

All in all, I’m looking forward to what this Kitty brings next.

Reviewed April 2013